History of Mother’s Day

mothers day

Happy Mother’s Day Smithtown Mothers

By: Tricia Chiarelli, Intern and Maureen Rossi

As Mother’s Day closes in, tensions have been ratcheting up in a major way with the dictator of North Korea; missiles, test missiles and nuclear threat.   Add in the mother of all bombs being dropped in Afghanistan by the U.S.A. and the ghoulish civil war in Syria and the planet could undoubtedly use more love.  Said civil war has left the world with the largest refugee crisis since WWII and the use of chemical weapons by the present government on citizens including women and children.

We find ourselves in a precarious state at the very least.

What do we all need?  Maybe we all need our mommy!    Few things can make problems seem better than a Mother’s love regardless of how old you are.  It can help fade life’s bigger issues and even small issues temporarily.

Mother’s Day is here and it’s about more than brunch or flowers – it’s genesis began with various religious and political meanings.


The festivities of honoring mothers dates back as early as the ancient Greeks and Romans.  These celebrations were held to worship Rhea and Cybele: the mother goddesses.

The Christians also celebrated motherhood with “Mothering Sunday.” It was a popular tradition in the United Kingdom and Europe; it fell on fourth Sunday in Lent and was set aside for attending a special service at the church closest to one’s home.  That church was also known as one’s “Mother Church.”  So, at one time in Europe Mother’s Day had a religious connotation to it.


In Boston 1870 female activist, poet and writer, Julia Ward Howe, whose claim to fame was her famous Civil War song, “Battle Hymn of the Republic” wrote a heartfelt letter to all women encouraging them to unite and stand up against war.  So, Mother’s Day, which is over one hundred years old in this country began with mother’s uniting to end war.

Howe suggested that June 2nd should be declared Mother’s Day and should be dedicated to peace.

However, the meaning of the day was different for different women depending on the time period or the country.

Today it’s often referred to as a Hallmark holiday – any mother will tell you that every day she has the honor of being a mother is Mother’s Day.   Modern official Mother’s Day often includes flowers, perhaps a brunch, a visit or a basket sent to mom if her offspring reside far away.  Sadly, for too many, it means flowers placed upon a grave or thoughts of a mother long gone.

In all the pomp and circumstance, it has become a multi-billion-dollar industry.

This idea is exactly what Anna Jarvis of West Virginia, didn’t want. Jarvis was yet another woman who conceptualized Mother’s Day.  While attending her mother’s Sunday school lesson on May 28, 1876; then twelve-year-old Anna paid special attention to her mother’s teachings about remarkable mothers of the Bible.  So, Jarvis’s concept was biblical – it was religious.

Anna’s mother spent a great deal of her life advocating for women’s causes through her work and her affiliations with many proactive organizations.  She helped improve health and sanitary conditions in West Virginia including providing help to the mothers with tuberculosis.  Her concerns also included lowering infant mortality by fighting disease and curbing milk contamination according to historian Katharine Antolini of West Virginia Wesleyan College.  The group also tended to both sides of the United State Civil War from 19861 until 19865.

So, Mother’s Day also included medical treatment and assistance for women and children and for those in the civil war.  It had a political action and nurturing component to it as well.

Jarvis who moved from West Virginia to Philadelphia in the 1890’s began to plan an official Mother’s Day holiday after her own mother’s death.   The enthusiastic visionary wrote thousands of letters advocating for a day honoring all mothers.  Many of those letters were to prominent people, Jarvis had gained respect through her attempts and caught the eye of many of the who’s who in America at that time including some famous writers.

Long after Mother’s Day was established as a holiday the famed activist Coretta Scott King, the late wife of Martin Luther King Jr., used Mother’s Day to host a march in support of poor women and children.  Mother’s day was utilized to shine a  light on poverty.

In the 70’s the holiday was also used to highlight the pressing need for equal rights for women and better access to healthcare.  So, Mother’s Day was also about the historic and famed Women’s Movement.

In the 1990’s Mother’s Day was used to bring together over eight-hundred thousand mothers’ from around the county to Washington for the Million Mom March.  They gathered to advocate for sensible gun control laws immediately following the Columbine massacre.  So, close to one hundred years after the concept burgeoned Mother’s Day was about gun control.

At the turn of the 19th century when it came to voting on whether Mother’s Day should be a holiday many women ridiculed the concept and it failed to pass.  However, Jarvis was not about to give up.  She persisted with her mission telling anyone who would listen and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson signed the legislation designating the second Sunday in May a national holiday – Mother’s Day!

Its history is like a tapestry with many colors – it has meant different things to different women depending on the time-period and the country.  It has morphed tremendously over the millennium.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers in Smithtown whether your children grew in your womb or in your heart!

*I dedicate this short homage to my amazing mother Ann for too many reasons to mention.  She is an incredible giving mother to five which includes one set of twins.  She is also the beloved grandmother to two beautiful grandsons; Andrew and William.    Love Tricia Chiarelli

**I dedicate this story to my mother Helen Stevens Ledden who has sacrificed and continues to sacrifice so much for her four children and six grand-children who range from 28 down to 2 – Anne Marie, Bryan, Jake, Julia, Dylan and Jack!     Love Maureen

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