Mother’s Day falls on May 13th this year. As the holiday is getting closer, we decided to take a closer look at the history of this Hallmark holiday and any existing links between feminism and motherhood. The holiday became official in 1914, and the woman behind the holiday spent much of her life fighting against the rampant commercialization of the day.
Anna Jarvis and the Birth of Mother’s Day
Up front, Anna Jarvis probably didn’t seem like the kind of person you’d find campaigning for a day off for moms. She was childless herself, but she was a daughter, and when her mother died in 1905, she vowed to establish an official day of rest for moms around the globe. She started by making Mother’s Day Work Clubs in 1860 to help mothers protect the health of their children and even aided wounded soldiers from both sides during the Civil War.
In 1907, she wrote hundreds of letters to executives, legislators and businesspeople around the world — and was largely laughed at, receiving responses claiming that these men loved their mothers but didn’t think they needed a day off.
In 1908, Jarvis joined forces with John Wanamaker, hailed as the father of modern advertising and the man who helped her get her message out there. 45 states observed Mother’s Day the following year. It wasn’t until 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson signed the resolution declaring the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day — a new national holiday — that she saw her dream come to fruition.
Her joy only lasted for about a decade, though, because while working with Wanamaker may have helped Jarvis get her Mother’s Day message out there, it had a downside. Wanamaker was a businessman at heart, and once the day became an official holiday, he knew he could cash in. He wasn’t the only one — businessmen, card makers, jewelers and craftsman all over the country wanted a piece of the Mother’s Day pie.
Jarvis was furious. By 1923, she was fighting with governors, candy companies and anyone else who wanted to cash in on the Mother’s Day phenomena. She was livid because the holiday was supposed to be a day of rest for mothers, not something to be used for commercial profit.
Jarvis died in 1944 of congestive heart failure after being committed to a sanitarium, though some speculate that her actual cause of death was a broken heart after seeing her life’s work turned into a commercial holiday.
Do the Roots of Mother’s Day Coincide with Feminism?
Jarvis didn’t consider herself a feminist, and probably never thought there was a connection between feminism and motherhood. She spent her life more concerned about her intellectual property and even found herself a pawn of the anti-suffragist movement in the early 1900s. Can we consider the holiday that she created feminist?
Well, the holiday is a celebration of women; specifically, the hard work that women put in as mothers. And nowadays, feminism has evolved to the point that if you ask 10 different people for the definition of the word, you may very well get 10 different answers.
There are some feminist sites that believe Mother’s Day is nothing short of radical religious feminism because Jarvis was the epitome of an independent woman — no husband or kids to tie her down, financially independent and she spent her life fighting for what she believed in.
Other feminist sites compare it to commercialized empowerment, similar to the way modern-day companies have been using the popularity of feminism to make a quick buck. You can buy Rosie the Riveter t-shirts or cell phone cases all day long, but the empowerment that she symbolized during World War II with her tied back hair and her “We Can Do It” slogan often gets reduced to nothing more than a keepsake. Mother’s Day falls into much the same category — like most other holidays, it’s become a Hallmark holiday, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not still an enjoyable holiday for families everywhere.
Give Your Mom the Day She Deserves
Whether you think Mother’s Day is feminist or not, it is a great day to celebrate your Mother and let her know that you appreciate everything her badassery — because moms are pretty badass! And that rings of feminism, I think. Enjoy the holiday and let your mom know that she is loved every single day of the year.
Enjoy my historical posts? Here are a few more!