This post is a tad late for Mothers Day, but it’s still worth giving a listen to The Good Mother: A History of American Motherhood (web link, iTunes), the latest episode of BackStory With The American History Guys (website, iTunes).
As part of the discussion of American attitudes towards motherhood, this episode gives the surprising history of Mother’s Day (the last 10 minutes of the podcast).
I’d always cynically supposed that Mother’s Day was the invention of florists and greeting card companies. But no.
Public radio reporter and podcaster Nate DiMeo tells how Mother’s (singular possesive) Day started as Mothers’ (plural) Day, a time for political action, organized by proto-socialist and political activist Anna Maria Jarvis in Appalachia in the 1850s.
Her early Mothers’ Work Days were a time for “demonstrations and political consciousness raising.” They were a time for recognizing that what mothers do is work, and that mothers could be organized to demand their rights.
Anna Jarvis’ daughter, also named Anna Jarvis, campaigned for a national Mothers’ Day to help continue her mother’s work. But when she succeeded, she was horrified by the sentimental extravaganza that Mother’s Day soon became, and she spent the rest of her life campaigning against the holiday. She even filed lawsuits to try to stop celebration of Mother’s Day.
And all the while, because she was the founder of Mother’s Day, strangers continued to send her flowers, candy and greeting cards on Mother’s Day, even though she had no children of her own, and now hated the holiday.
For more on Anna Jarvis, see The War Against Mothers Day.