Did you know that 2014 is the 100th anniversary of Mother’s Day, as we know it, in the U.S.? Julia Ward Howe, an American poet who also wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” at the beginning of the Civil War, became so appalled by the violence and destruction that she became a pacifist and called, in 1870, for all mothers to band together in peace, to stop their sons and husbands from being sent to war. Her effort temporarily (until about 1880) resulted in June 2nd being set aside for local celebrations of American mothers, and of peace.
When Howe died, although most Mother’s Day celebrations ended, a group of women in West Virginia adapted the holiday as a Mother’s Friendship Day, to re-unite those who had been driven apart by wartime politics. In 1908, Anna Jarvis, the daughter of the Mother’s Friendship Day committee leader, petitioned her mother’s church — St. Andrews Methodist Church — to establish the 2nd Sunday in May as an official, annual celebration, in honor of her mother; the church assented, presenting each mother with white carnations, Jarvis’ mother’s favorite flower, for the special service. A church in Philadelphia, where Jarvis herself was living, also adopted the holiday. The same year, the YMCA started petitioning the U.S. government to make Mother’s Day a national holiday, working with Jarvis to influence senators and other government officials. Jarvis trademarked the phrase “Mother’s Day” in 1912, to indicate that the purpose of the holiday was “for each family to honor its mother, not … all mothers of the world.” In 1912 West Virginia became the first state to recognize Mother’s Day as an official holiday, and President Woodrow Wilson made it a national holiday in May of 1914.
Unfortunately, the growing commercialization of the holiday disgusted Jarvis, who organized lawsuits and boycotts, crashed a confectioners’ convention, and was arrested at least once for trying to stop Mother’s Day holiday sales! In 1938, Jarvis unsuccessfully tried to copyright Mother’s Day, to put an end to vendors capitalizing on the sale of white carnations, greeting cards, and other merchandise aimed at women, on that day. Anna Jarvis gave her life and career to making Mother’s Day a noble, non-commercial, American holiday, never becoming a mother herself; however, by the time of her death after WW2, many countries had adopted the holiday, and it remains commercialized.
Whether you buy in to the holiday commercialism or not, when Mother’s Day comes around, it’s our chance to pamper our mothers! In Miss Jarvis’ original Mother’s Day spirit, don’t buy things for your mother, so much as give of yourself to her. Cook for her, clean for her, repair things for her, make tea for her, give her time to herself, but most of all, spend time giving love and care to your mother and other women who have nurtured you!
If you have access to old or vintage family items like dishes or table linens, use them to set the table. Use framed family photos of your mom as table decorations. Along with any gifts you buy for her, if you can, avoid the crowds at the restaurant and make your mom’s favorite foods using family recipes; if you can’t cook, many tea rooms offer take-out options. This is another good opportunity to put your tea party pantry to use; you can put together breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner or a fancy afternoon tea! Here is a vintage recipe from my grandmother’s recipe book, that I often make for my mom on Mother’s Day; it goes well with a pot of black tea.
Cobbler (fresh fruit):
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
[Mix together to form batter.] Pour batter in pan. Cover with fresh fruit. Pour syrup over dough. Syrup: 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water [brought to a boil and then cooled]. Bake 45 minutes — 350 degrees. Serve hot or cold with cream. [NOTE: like fruit pies, this dish will overflow and drip sugar syrup all over your oven. Put a cookie sheet underneath when you put it in the oven to catch the drips.]
— from Burnt Toast: Victory Edition, published in Los Angeles, 1942.
Copyright 2014, Elizabeth Urbach.
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“Mother’s Day History”
“Women: Mother’s Day, Inc.” from _Time_ magazine, 1938.
“Mother’s Day’s Dark History” from _National Geographic_ magazine