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Who started Mother's Day?

Happy Mother's Day! I'm not a mother, but I know many mothers, and again, any excuse to celebrate, I'm onboard. Though it's only been just over a century that Mother's day was officially celebrated in the United States, Mother's Day isn't a new holiday. The earliest Mother's Day celebrations can be traced back to the spring celebrations of ancient Greece in honor of Rhea, the mother of the gods. People would make offerings of honey-cakes, fine drinks, and flowers at dawn.

The Romans also had a mother of all gods, Magna Mater, or Great Mother. A temple was built in Rome for her. In March of each year, there was a celebration in her honor called the Festival of Hilaria. Gifts were brought to the temple to please the powerful mother-goddess.

During the 1600s, England celebrated "Mothering Sunday" on the fourth Sunday of Lent as a way to honor the mothers of England. Many of England's poor lived and worked as servants for the wealthy, far away from their homes and families. On Mothering Sunday, servants were given the day off to return home and spend the day with their mothers. A special cake, called the "mothering cake," was often baked to add to the festivities.

In the United States President Woodrow Wilson is usually seen as the “father” of Mother’s Day— for signing a proclamation on May 9, 1914, declaring the second Sunday of May “a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country” — while copywriter Anna Jarvis is usually seen as the “mother” of Mother’s Day, for creating the movement that led to the proclamation. Though a few others are notable in the pursuit of such a holiday.

In 1868 Jarvis' own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” at which mothers gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote reconciliation. Another precursor to Mother’s Day came from the abolitionist and suffragette Julia Ward Howe. In 1870 Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” a call to action that asked mothers to unite in promoting world peace. In 1873 Howe campaigned for a “Mother’s Peace Day” to be celebrated every June 2. Another early Mother’s Day pioneer include Juliet Calhoun Blakely, a temperance activist who inspired a local Mother’s Day in Albion, Michigan, in the 1870s. The duo of Mary Towles Sasseen and Frank Hering, meanwhile, both worked to organize a Mothers’ Day in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some have even called Hering the original father of Mothers’ Day.

On May 10, 1908, Anna Jarvis (having gaining financial backing from a Philadelphia department store owner named John Wanamaker) sent 500 white carnations to Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church (where her mother had taught Sunday School for 20 years) in her hometown of Grafton, West Virginia, in honor of her late mother, Ann. On that date a celebration was also held at one of Wanamaker's stores in Philadelphia (the town where Anna lived at the time), and this is considered to be America’s first Mother’s Day celebration.

As Jarvis spread the word about the holiday, she always traced it back to the moment when, in 1876, she heard her mother recite the following prayer after teaching a Sunday School lesson: “I hope and pray 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.” When her mother died in 1905, she vowed to fulfill her Mother's dream.

Ann Reeves Jarvis' favorite flower was a carnation, hence why her daughter used carnations in her celebration of Mother's Day. As the tradition of gifting carnations on Mother’s Day grew, carnation colors took on new symbolism. White carnations were meant to honor the memory of deceased mothers while red and pink carnations honored those who are living.

Fun fact: More phone calls are made on Mother’s Day than any other day of the year. These holiday chats with Mom often cause phone traffic to spike by as much as 37 percent.

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