How one West Virginia Woman Made Mother’s Day a Holiday

Appalachian Mother

Over its +150 years of existence, the State of West Virginia has offered America with numerous items we take for granted each day.  These offerings range from the Golden Delicious Apple to parking garages (wink, wink, McDowell County) and on this weekend, the entire nation will pause to commemorate a holiday that owes its existence entirely to the work of one West Virginia woman.

In the immediate days following the bloody American Civil War, the residents of the states who had been at war only months earlier looked toward the future with pesimissm and fear — in order for life to move forward as one nation, the people of Dixie and their Yankee counterparts would have to learn to not only coexist, but work together as one people, as one nation; a seemingly impossible task considering the fact that the two sides had just slaughtered a combined 620,000 sons in what remains the bloodiest war in American history.

At the forefront of working to heal the horrific hurts of a civil war were America’s mothers, and not just any mothers, but the mothers of the war’s slain boys.  Soon, gatherings known as “women’s peace groups” began to spring up along the border states, as mothers whose sons had fought or died on opposite sides during the war met and extended handshakes of peace.

Recognizing not only how the war had torn the nation apart, but also families, as it was not uncommon for one brother to side for the North while another sided with the South, in 1868 Ann Jarvis created a committee to establish a “Mother’s Friendship Day”, the purpose of which was “to reunite families that had been divided during the Civil War.”

In the decades that followed, there were several limited observances of the holiday, sadly, the idea of a “Mother’s Friendship Day” never fully caught on during the 1800s and on May 9, 1905, Ann Jarvis died.

Following the death of her mother, Ann Jarvis’ daughter, Anna, became obsessed with honoring her mother by working to realize her mother’s dream of the nation setting aside a single day dedicated entirely to families honoring their mother.

Two years following her mothers’ death, on May 12, 1907, a small “Mother’s Day” service was held at Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, where Anna’s mother served as a Sunday school teacher.

Two years later, the Grafton church service was accompanied by a larger ceremony in the Wanamaker Auditorium in the Wanamaker’s store in Philadelphia and by 1910, churches throughout New York City had agreed to hold a special “Mother’s Day Service” on the second Sunday of May.  That same year, the legislature of West Virginia declared Mother’s Day to be an official state holiday and on May 10, 1913, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on all federal government officials to wear a white carnation the following day in observance of Mother’s Day.

The next year, the United States Congress passed a law designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.  The following day, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation declaring, “[I] do hereby direct the government officials to display the United States flag on all government buildings and do invite the people of the United States to display the flag at their homes or other suitable places on the second Sunday in May as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”

The Grafton church, where the first official Mother’s Day event was held is now listed as a National Historic Landmark and over half of American households send greeting cards in honor of this day, each year.

As the nation celebrates Mother’s Day, yet again, in the midst of all the commercialization, take a moment and recognize the day for what it was designed to be: an opportunity to honor mothers.  If your mother is no longer with you, take a lead from the holiday’s founder and find a way to honor her memory on this special day.

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