Although mothers are certainly the one tie that commonly binds all people throughout human history, it has been celebrated as an official occasion only in this past century.
The struggle toward what we now call "Mother's Day" began in 1868, with the work of Ann Jarvis to establish a "Mother's Friendship Day". Jarvis wanted to encourage mothers to fulfill their unique role which could reconcile the division of so many families that was another painful result of the Civil War. Jarvis wanted to expand the concept into an annual celebration for mothers, but she died in 1905 before the day became popular.
Ann Jarvis' daughter, Anna Marie Jarvis is credited with establishing Mother's Day in its current form, following the death of her mother on May 9, 1905. It is the date of Ann Jarvis' death which is commonly cited as the motivation behind celebrating Mother's Day on the second Sunday in May.
Although Julia Ward Howe may be best known for writing the patriotic words to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, she is also credited for her significant role in establishing "Mother's Day" as a national holiday. On June 2, 1872, Julia Ward Howe led a "Mother's Day" anti-war observance in New York City, which was accompanied by a Mother's Day Proclamation. Howe continued the observance which she personally sponsored for about 10 years in Boston Massachusetts.
While many individual states celebrated Mother's Day by 1911, it wasn't until May 9, 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation which declared the first national Mother's Day as a day for American citizens to display the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war. Although Wilson's proclamation was significant for its role in official history, it is Howe's Proclamation which lives on as the true heart of the holiday.
Mother's Day Proclamation (June 2, 1872)
"Arise, then, women of this day!
"Arise, all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
"Say firmly: We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
"Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
"We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.
"From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: 'Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.'
"Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
"As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.
"Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.