The revolutionary and Mothers’ Day


SOME people say the meaning of Easter has been lost, but I won’t let that happen in my house. When my children are old enough, I’ll explain that naughty people were stoned to death, in Biblical times, with supermarket hot-cross buns purchased at three shekels a dozen after January 1 each year.

The commercialisation of meaningful dates is nothing new. Anna Jarvis, the Philadelphia “mother” of Mother’s Day, was so disheartened by the capitalist thirst of her creation that she tried to kill it. Call it her take on matricide infanticide.

Jarvis’s zeal of a century ago bears little resemblance to the gift-giving rituals of today. She was a feminist and a Christian of her era. She sought a commemoration of her own mother who had died several years earlier. Hers was an exchange based on carnations and handwritten notes. It was also an idea ripe for exploitation.

When it exploded into greeting card bonanzas and candymakers’ conventions, there was an arrest and, later, talk of madness. Jarvis, herself childless, was doomed to become history’s sideshow to her own circus.

Her mother, Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis, had tended to wounded soldiers from both sides of the American Civil War. She worked to lower infant mortality rates and improve sanitation.

On the second anniversary of her death in 1905, daughter Anna hosted a small gathering in Philadelphia. It wasn’t enough, not as a legacy for such an angelic life led. A year later, Anna Jarvis arranged for 500 white carnations to be handed out at a West Virginia church where her mother had taught Sunday school. So far, so good.

The Mother’s Day campaign spread to neighbouring cities and states until it enveloped the White House. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it an official day.

Anna Jarvis was suitably tickled by that, the fruit of a campaign involving thousands of letters to government officials.

She wrote a letter to Wilson: Mother’s Day would “perpetuate family ties and give emphasis to true family life”.

Yet like any self-respecting revolutionary, it was about then, at the moment of conquest, that Jarvis started to ponder the direction of her triumph. She had got she wanted. But she wasn’t receiving what she had aimed for.

The jackals, as she saw it, began to shred the love and meaning from the event. People didn’t understand. The occasion was not about purchases and profits, she yelled, but sentiments and sorrows.

Jarvis adopted the American way to such grievances, lots of banging about and threats of legal action. If there had been daytime TV in the 1920s, Jarvis would have been a fixture.

There was a commotion at a convention in 1923. Two years later, when Jarvis fronted the American War Mothers to complain about their selling of carnations, she was said to be pulled away by the police and charged with disturbing the peace.

Her bitterness zinged off the page. Florists, cardmakers and chocolate makers were “charlatans”, “bandits” and “pirates”. A printed card meant you “are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world”. Those who gave candy to their mothers ate “most of it” themselves. (Perhaps Jarvis did, and still does, have a few points.)

Jarvis stayed shouty until her death in 1948. She had made no money from Mother’s Day; instead, after inheriting a fortune, she died penniless in trying to slay the bastard child she had spawned.

The ironies are manifest, the tale almost as contradictory as the Nobel Peace Prize, given the double-pronged place that Alfred Nobel straddles in conflict resolution: he did, after all, invent dynamite. Jarvis’s protests were understandable enough, but they did fail to anticipate both international and future norms. If Mother’s Day had not been hijacked by commercial interests, it may not have endured at all.

It’s an annual event that still matters, however mercenary its underpinnings. Children of my vintage, for one, forged God-awful ashtrays, a pursuit which has since faded in favour of curious paint and crayon depictions.

One forgets with how much feeling such creative mishaps were once offered until they are received decades later.

Australians are stingier than Americans — an average Mother’s Day spend of $60-odd compared with double or more in the US. Still, the onslaught of magazine-family depictions, as cheesy as they are, seems a small price.

Consider the average Australian male and his aversion to any conversation that verges on emotional weightiness. Mother’s Day is when something heartfelt stands to be said when otherwise nothing would be said at all.

Even Anna Jarvis, if she’d stopped hollering in those final decades, would nod to the sentiment


7 thoughts on “The revolutionary and Mothers’ Day

  1. God and I both like a trier, but I suspect we’d agree that what’s important is not what we are, but who we are.

    There are some real bitches around who are mothers.
    …and they’re not all canines.

    ps. And speaking of which, I really need someone to give their mum, for mother’s day, an undersized black labrador pup. Anyone who’s seen ‘Marley and Me’ will know what to expect.
    Anyone who hasn’t should make it a priority to do so!

    Tess is 14 months old, so halfway to becoming sane. She had a seriously bad start to life and has a bit of a thing about being abandoned; even keeps wagging her tail when she’s getting a stern talking to and a clip in the ear; so long as you’re ‘there’. But affectionate as, full of beans ~ ALL the time (will grow out of that by age 2) ~ and would fit in perfectly with any family: the more boisterous the better.

    Will deliver!


      • I know you’re not a ‘dog-person’ Kate, but do please keep your ear to the ground for me. Just about everybody I know is ‘dogged out’, but given your line of work you’d likely come across some good prospective homes for the many needy four-legged people. I’ll help out with’s-bills/etc. (Trixie ~ the scruffy Aust. terrier type is also still looking for a suitable home) In fact, come to think of it, apart from a perfect family dog, Tess would make a really good ‘therapy dog’; she’s a real people-dog (and also sociable with other animals)….just so long she’s not left alone in the backyard or where-ever.

        Keep us in mind.


  2. My siblings and I were born late 1929s /early 1930s. We were not allowed to recognise Mothers’ Day, as she said that should be every day, and she abhored the commercialisation back then.

    However, one Mothering Sunday (4th Sunday on Lent) a neighbour who ran a sort of Presbyterian Sunday school, asked us to fill a matchbox with some of our mother’s face powder, paste some white paper around it and write thankfulness on it, pick a flower from our mother’s garden, and present that. When my mother died 60 years later I found this in a box in her wardrobe.

    “During the sixteenth century, people returned to their mother church, the main church or cathedral of the area, for a service to be held on Laetare Sunday. This was either a large local church, or more often the nearest Cathedral.[1] Anyone who did this was commonly said to have gone “a-mothering”, although whether this term preceded the observance of Mothering Sunday is unclear. In later times, Mothering Sunday became a day when domestic servants were given a day off to visit their mother church, usually with their own mothers and other family members. It was often the only time that whole families could gather together, since on other days they were prevented by conflicting working hours, and servants were not given free days on other occasions.[2]

    Children and young people who were “in service” (as household servants) were given a day off on that date so they could visit their families (or, originally, return to their “mother” church). The children would pick wild flowers along the way to place in the church or give to their mothers. Eventually, the religious tradition evolved into the Mothering Sunday secular tradition of giving gifts to mothers.[1].”

    There’s a move to rename Mothers’ Day as Nurturers’ Day, which can include so many blokes who are more like mothers to their kids than some women we know!


    • Now that’s a different perspective; and one that makes sense.
      And I agree with your mum, Strewth. One-day-a-year marks one more as a hypocrite than anything else.
      ‘Nurturer’s Day’ sounds like a good (sensible) thought too, but I’d suspect the ‘magic’ wouldn’t be the same. Even the most gruesome ‘traditions’ have meaning that can’t be replicated.

      (imagine the dogs bringing ME bones on Nurturer’s Day! 😆 )


  3. I don’t know whether celebrating mother’s day is a good idea or not etc. but we do and I think mum appreciates having a special day dedicated to people like her. Typical mum though, went out and bought presents for everyone else, even her 9 year old granddaughter lol She is gentle people and even though we can often clash (I’m not gentle), she teaches me patience and kindness and the power of simple gestures. I love her greatly.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s