(Archive - Week of April 25-May 9, 2004)

Mother's Day – make your mother Queen for a day

Noah's mother Rettie Belew

On May 9, we must give credit to Anna Jarvis, who died in 1948, blind and penniless, for establishing an annual Mother's Day for all mothers in the United States. The history of Mother's Day in the United States will tell all Americans that one person, with enough determination, can change the thinking of those who are dragging their feet regarding policy making.

The history of Mother's Day was planted in Anna Jarvis' head at the grave site of her own mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis, in 1905. She swore, at that time standing over the grave of her mother, that she would dedicate the rest of her life to her mother's project, and establish a Mother's Day to honor mothers, living and dead. A persistent rumor in this history is that Anna's grief was intensified because she and her mother had quarreled and her mother died before they could reconcile.

After the death of Anna's mother in 1890, she moved from Grafton, West Virginia, to Philadelphia, and her desire to establish an annual Mother's Day was on the front burner. In 1907, Anna returned to her mother's church, St. Andrew's Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, and passed out 500 white carnations – one for each mother in the congregation. A year later, in 1908, her mother's church responded with approval to Anna's request for a Sunday service honoring the late Anna Reeves Jarvis each year.

The same year, 1908, John Wanamaker, a Philadelphia merchant, joined Anna's campaign for Mother's Day, and the first bill was presented in the U.S. Senate proposing establishment of Mother's Day, by Nebraska Senator Elmer Burkett, at the request of the Young Men's Christian Association. The proposal was killed by sending it back to committee, 33-14. We must remember that some men thought women were not equal with men in those days.

In 1909, Mother's Day services were held in 46 states plus Canada and Mexico. Anna gave up her job – sometimes reported as a teacher, sometimes as clerking in an insurance office – to work full-time writing letters to politicians, clergy members, business leaders, women's clubs, and anyone else she thought might have some influence in Congress. Anna was also able to enlist the World's Sunday School Association in the lobbying campaign, a key success factor in convincing legislators in states and in the U.S. Congress to support the holiday. In 1912, West Virginia became the first state to adopt an official Mother's Day holiday.

In 1914, the U.S. Congress passed a Joint Resolution, and President Woodrow Wilson signed it, establishing Mother's Day, emphasizing women's role in the family. Texas Senators Cotton Tom Heflin and Morris Shepard introduced the joint resolution adopted in 1914. Both were ardent prohibitionists.

Anna got what she had worked so long for, but then she became concerned over the commercialization of Mother's Day. She wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit. She opposed the selling of flowers and also the use of greeting cards. As many of us know, Christmas, Easter and other holidays are not celebrated without the commercialization.

In 1923, Anna Jarvis filed suit against New York Governor Al Smith, over a Mother's Day celebration; the court threw the suit out. When she publicly protested, Anna was arrested for disturbing the peace. In 1931, Anna criticized Eleanor Roosevelt for her work with a Mother's Day committee that was not Jarvis' committee.

Anna never had children of her own and in 1948, she died blind and penniless and was buried next to her mother.

Rettie Mae (Hickman) Belew
1896 - 1987

NOW HEAR THIS: We only have one blood related mother. It will be her day on May 9. She deserves to be “Queen for a day.” In fact, she is entitled to have this title everyday of the year. And fathers, don't forget the mother of your children. My beloved mother, Rettie Mae (Hickman) Belew, died on Flag Day, June 14, 1987, at age 90, and I have missed her love and advice every single day since that time. After attending church with your mother, treat her to a quality restaurant for lunch or dinner.


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