Thursday, May 8, 2014

Honoring our Mothers through History

By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.

Abigail Adams
For many, Mother's Day is a celebration honoring mothers and the concept of motherhood in society. The celebration of Mother's Day began in the United States in 1908 when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother.  The campaign to create a "Mother's Day" holiday did eventually happen when Woodrow Wilson in 1914, signed a Proclamation creating Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May.  Sadly, the woman responsible for its creation would become bitter at the thought that a simple wish to honor all mothers would be usurped by capitalism and become a huge commercial enterprise. 

Just as the creation and evolution of Mother’s Day is complex, so is the idea of who are the great Mother’s. Is Mother’s Day only for true Mothers? Or, can this day be celebrated for those who may not be a Mother literally, but figuratively? In our homes, we celebrate our Mother. In society, we have a long history of the Republican Motherhood and the Cult of Domesticity.  So, who are some of our great Mothers?

Dolley Madison

Our Founding Mothers
Several years ago, I was able to hear Cokie Roberts speak about her book “Founding Mothers” and ever since I have the greatest respect for the women who did so much to create our country. This elite group includes future first ladies Martha Washington, Abigail Adams and Dolley Madison. Martha famously spent the entire long winter at Valley Forge with George, Abigail asked her husband John to “Remember the Ladies,” and Dolley stayed in burning capital while all the men left and was key to saving George Washington’s portrait. Esther DeBerdt Reed wrote “Sentiments of an American Woman” encouraging support of the troops. 

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Our Society Mother’s
In society, we have had Mothers who went beyond their traditional role of Mother and pushed to make society a better place.  Early Child Labor activist Mother Jones was a force to be reckoned with, even managing to get the attention and admiration of Theodore Roosevelt.  Suffragists who were mothers at home but managed to help create the Women’s Movement like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Lucy Stone. Early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft pushed society at a time when few women did.  Also, Jane Addams was never a literal Mother, yet her Hull House helped create a safe place for many Mothers.

Jacqueline Kennedy

Our Political Mother’s
In addition to our Founding Mother’s, we do have political Mothers.  Many of these women lived their lives in front of society and at the side of their incredibly powerful husband.  These Political Mothers would include Rose Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Barbara Bush. 

Anna Jarvis
These are just a few of the powerful and great mother’s we have had in our society.  However, we should remember the goal of Anna Jarvis when she created Mother’s Day.  She wrote to President Wilson that Mother’s Day should be a “great Home Day of our country for sons and daughters to honor their mothers and fathers and homes in a way that will perpetuate family ties and give emphasis to true home life.”  So, this is not a day about honoring just any Mother, it should start with your own.  Jarvis was never a Mother, she was a daughter who wanted to honor her Mother, and by extension all Mothers. 

For more information:
Anna Jarvis:
Cokie Roberts Founding Mothers, The Women Who Raised Our Nation

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