Mother’s Day and mom's value

It is ironic that the Mother’s Day holiday in the United States was born from pain and emotional wounds left over from the American Civil War which caused women to question their value as mothers, while America in 2012 appears to be deeply divided over the value of motherhood. Photo: Mother's Day card from 1915

SAN JOSE, Ca., May 13, 2012 - Many Americans heartily celebrate Mother’s Day every second Sunday of May each year, but are clueless about the history behind the holiday. 

The Civil War was the most devastating war the United States ever engaged in because we were at war with ourselves. Almost 620,000 boys and men died as a result of the Civil War. This is the greatest number of Americans to have died in any war the country has fought. It was sheer devastation.

After the war, those who were left to pick up the pieces had to deal with the physical loss of loved ones, as well as  a deep emotional loss. The price of ending slavery in this country came at a great cost. It was during this time that many women began to form women’s friendship clubs for the purpose of healing the emotional wounds left open within the devastated nation.

Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, the daughter of a Methodist minister and mother of eleven children, was the inspiration behind the formation of the Mother’s Day holiday that is currently celebrated on the second Sunday of May in the U.S. and    in numerous countries throughout the world.

Ann Marie and her husband, Granville, the son of a Baptist minister, lived in an area we now know as West Virginia. But while the Jarvis family lived in Taylor County, it was a crossroads for both Confederate and Union armies that were either advancing into enemy territory or retreating. She was an exceptional woman who did more than simply survive the death and destruction of the Civil War.

Before the war, Mother Jarvis, along with her brother who was a doctor, organized a number of “Mothers Day Work Clubs” in her local area to combat the unsanitary circumstances and poor health conditions that contributed to a high mortality rate among children in West Virginia. Mrs. Jarvis lost eight of her eleven children before they reached the age of seven.

These social action brigades, which later became known as Mothers Friendship Clubs, taught mothers the importance of boiling water and demonstrated how to prevent food from spoiling, as well as other antiseptic practices. They helped to provide medicine for the poor and nursing care for the sick, and arranged proper medical attention for those who were suffering from tuberculosis.  

When the Civil War started, Mrs. Jarvis gathered four of these clubs together and requested that they pledge to one another that their friendship and goodwill would not become victims of the war that had started to rip apart the nation. She asked the clubs: 

“To make a sworn-to agreement between members that friendship and good will should obtain in the clubs for the duration and aftermath of the war. That all efforts to divide the churches and lodges should not only be frowned upon but prevented.”

It was important that the clubs remained neutral, as it enabled them to provide nursing assistance to the wounded soldiers from both Union and Confederate forces. It is estimated that these women’s groups saved many lives.

The area around Taylor County near where the Jarvis home was located, served as a staging area for both Confederate and Union troops and supplies to be shipped in either direction because of the Wheeling-Staution Pike railroad. Confederates made their way up into Ohio and Pennsylvania and Union troops used the way as a “backdoor to the South.”  The local area at one time served as Gen. George B. McClellan’s headquarters. Under such extreme conditions, Anna Jarvis, the daughter of Ann Marie and later the founder of Mother’s Day in the U.S., was born on May 1, 1864, to the Jarvis family.

When the war was over, Ann Jarvis and her community based Mother’s groups proved instrumental in promoting the fragile peace between formerly divided friends and neighbors. They served as a healing element within the polarized community and worked as peacemakers as they encouraged families to work out their differences and resentment brought about by the war. By 1868, Jarvis had conceived of a family day picnic which she called “Mother’s Friendship Day” in order to honor mothers, with a deeper goal of reuniting politically divided families.   

Her ultimate goal was to create a lasting memorial regarding the value of mothers. Unfortunately, Mother Jarvis passed away on May 9, 1905, just over two years after her husband passed away. At Ann Marie’s gravesite, Anna recalled a prayer that her mother, who had taught Sunday school in Grafton, West Virginia for seven years, offered regarding such a memorial.  When Anna was twelve, her mother offered a lesson on “Mothers of the Bible” and her concluding prayer, essentially paraphrased was: “I hope that someone, sometime will found a memorial mother’s day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life.”

Anna’s brother Claude heard his sister reflecting on their mother and the dream expressed in that prayer, and heard the pledge that Anna Jarvis made that day at the gravesite that: “by the grace of God, you shall have that Mother’s Day.” As a result of years of determined effort by her loving daughter, Anna Jarvis, out of deep respect and genuine love, worked tirelessly after Ann Jarvis died, to carry on her mother’s work to create a Mother’s Day memorial. Finally her determined efforts achieved ultimate success on May 9, 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation declaring the first national Mother’s Day.

Anna Jarvis may have expressed it best when she once explained her purpose in establishing such a day:

“To revive the dormant filial love and gratitude we owe to those who gave us birth. To be a home tie for the absent. To obliterate family estrangement… To make us better children by getting us closer to the hearts of our good mothers. To brighten the lives of good mothers. To have them know we appreciate them, though we do not show it as often as we ought… Mothers Day is to remind us of our duty before it is too late. This day is intended that we may make new resolutions for a more active thought to our dear mothers. By words, gifts, acts of affection, and in every way possible, give her pleasure, and make her heart glad every day, and constantly keep in memory Mothers Day.” 

Happy Mother’s Day to all Moms everywhere!

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Dennis Jamison
Dennis Jamison
Dennis Jamison reinvented his life after working for a multi-billion dollar division of Johnson & Johnson for several years. Now semi-retired, he is an adjunct faculty member  at West Valley College in California.  He also currently writes a column on history and one on American freedom for the Communities at the Washington Times.


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