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History of Mother's Day

Updated on January 13, 2011

Hilaria Festival Celebrated Mother Goddesses

The concept of Mother's Day began around 250 BC in ancient Rome
The concept of Mother's Day began around 250 BC in ancient Rome


Ever wonder where Mother's Day came from?

Well, if you want to go back far enough, to the very first glimpse of the concept, you would find that the ancient Romans held a festival called Hilaria, which was dedicated to the worship of mother goddesses. That was about two hundred and fifty years before the birth of Christ and held three days from the Ides of March. Whether that was three days before or after, I'm afraid I can't say, I don't know.

Fast forward to England, the 1600's and you would find people observing, "Mothering Sunday" on the fourth Sunday of Lent. Back then, there were a lot of poor people working as servants to the wealthy. Usually, they lived at their place of employment, far from home. On Mothering Sunday, they got a day off and were encouraged to visit their mothers. As was the custom, a "mothering cake" (reportedly a rich fruit cake) was taken to add a festive touch.

Julia Ward Howe

Julia brought Mother's Day to America
Julia brought Mother's Day to America

Mother's Day is Introduced to the Twentieth Century

It was the twentieth century before a day was officially dedicated to moms around the world. Two American women are the ones to thank for it.

The first, Julia Ward Howe, was the author of the words to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic".

In 1872, she suggested the idea of a Mother's Day, optimistically hoping that it would become a day dedicated to peace, and so for several years, organized Mother's Day meetings in Boston.

Other people in different communities began to celebrate the occasion on their own but it didn't really catch on until Anna Jarvis came into the picture in 1907.

Anna Jarvis

To many, Anna's name is synonymous with Mother's Day
To many, Anna's name is synonymous with Mother's Day

Anna was very close to her mother, Mrs. Anna Reese Jarvis, who was a minister's daughter and who taught Sunday School for twenty years. On May 9, 1905, Mrs. Jarvis died in Pennsylvania. To honour her memory, Anna asked her mother's original church in Grafton, West Virginia, and the one they attended after moving to Philadelphia, to hold special services on the second Sunday of May on the second anniversary of her mother's death. Anna also asked everyone to wear a white carnation (Mom's favourite flower), and started a letter writing campaign to ministers and politicians in support of the idea of an official Mother's Day. It took awhile.

Woodrow Wilson

Issued a declaration to officially recognize Mother's Day
Issued a declaration to officially recognize Mother's Day

The President Gets Involved

President Woodrow Wilson finally made the declaration in 1914. It was really a technicality, however, as the U.S., Mexico, Canada, South America, China, Japan and Africa had been observing the special day since 1911. There had even been an organization called The Mother's Day International Association in existence since 1912 to promote the event.

With such phenomenal success, you'd think that Anna Jarvis would have been thrilled but she she became disillusioned, instead. Her intent was a solemn religious service. The end result was the commercialism of flowers, cards and gifts that we now freely associate with the second Sunday of May. While this still adheres to Anna's original intention of honouring mothers, she was never able to accept it.

Celebrating Motherhood Today

Nowadays, celebrations continue on the same day in Denmark, Finland, Italy, Turkey, Australia and Belgium, as in Canada and the United States. Sweden and France recognize Mom as special on the last Sunday in May but if you live in South Africa, you'll need cards for the first Sunday. If you come from Serbia, you don't have to worry about it until the last Sunday in December.

Yugoslavia has a quaint custom to honour their mothers. Two Sundays before Christmas, Yugoslav children tie up their mom's feet in order to ransom a present from her. Serbia's customs are similar. Apparently, the mothers don't mind, as they see the presents as a symbol of God's gift to the world.

In Alberta, Canada, some native people have a big spring pow-wow featuring a special ceremonial dance. Here in Ontario, different service clubs hold annual Mother's Day banquets or brunches.

Of course, this special day is celebrated privately in every mother's home.

Happy Mother's Day!

History of Mother's Day / The History of Mother's Day by Shirley Anderson, ©1996. All rights reserved. Photos are public domain.

This hub is an article reprint from the Old South Advocate


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    • Team Wiseman profile image

      Team Wiseman 3 years ago

      We had no idea! Wow, this is proof of how One person can change the world and all because of Love. Great article! So informative and to the point.

      We Shared this article with FB, Twitter, g+, and Pinterest! Thanks

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Hi, VocalCoach! I'm glad that you enjoyed my hub! Thanks so much for coming by to read and comment.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      This is so interesting and informative. I so appreciate the history of Mothers Day as I new next to nothing about it until now. Very well written with very good photos. Thanks

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Hi, Buffoon! Yes, it's pretty old, alright! Unfortunately, I don't have my original notes from when I wrote the article for the paper, so I couldn't cite my sources but wish I could remember where I found the info so I could get more. Thanks for coming by!

      Thanks, Irish. I don't know about you but it never occurred to me to even wonder how old Mother's Day was.

      Hi, Prasadjain! Thank-you so much for reading and commenting.

      Thanks, Dr. Cris! Maybe I should do one for Father's Day, too. :)

    • drcrischasse profile image

      drcrischasse 7 years ago from NH/Foxboro

      Great topic. I love these types of articles

    • prasadjain profile image

      Dr.S.P.PADMA PRASAD 7 years ago from Tumkur

      Thanks for giving authentic details. This increases our knowledge.

    • theirishobserver. profile image

      theirishobserver. 7 years ago from Ireland

      excellent hub.....great information...never knew most of this....Irish

    • Buffoon profile image

      Buffoon 7 years ago

      Hi Shirley, I caught a documentaty on Julia Ward Howe a while back on NG or Discovery or some such, but I never heard there that Mother's Day dated back to the good Romans! Fancy that!

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      TFHodge, It's so nice to hear that you honour not only your own mom but mothers everywhere. Thank-you.

      Thanks, 4FoodSafety. Re the lines, yes they are a gradient shade of purple (my fav colour) and they are super easy to add to a hub. Find a free clipart line, copy image location or save then put into a photo capsule. Voila, you have a pretty horizontal line.

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Hi, Blue Parrot. I have no idea who that is a statue of, it was just a photo that came closest to one that might have been around at the time of the mother goddesses festivals.

      Re the Neanderthals, I suspect they served mothers a nice hunk of something raw that they caught. Would've been a treat. Who knows, maybe they got a new animal hide or their portrait painted on a cave wall. :-)

      Thanks for coming by and commenting.

    • 4FoodSafety profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 7 years ago from Fontana, WI

      Excellent! How do you do those horizontal lines at the end? My screen shows them in variegated purple tones.

    • tfhodge profile image

      tfhodge 7 years ago from California - U.S.A.

      This was good information. Thank you. I'll always love my mother, and I'm thankful for all the mother's who accept their responsibility with such grace.

    • blue parrot profile image

      blue parrot 7 years ago from Madrid, Spain

      Hi Shirley: If that's Michelangelo's David at the top of your hub (and not a Roman statue), then it's twice the wrong illustration because he never mentioned his mom. Of course she died before he was old enough to remember her. And taking this holiday back to 250 BC seems like quite a push. I think the Neanderthals celebrated it too but I can't say how. Just joking. I enjoyed the hub.

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks, HH. I don't think many people consider the history of Mother's Day but you're right, it is interesting. Yes, I read that the UK celebrates the day in March. A few countries recognize Mother's Day in other months but most hold it on the same date. Thank-you for the comment.


      OCBill, thank-you, glad you enjoyed it.


      Hi, Ethel! Thanks for coming by.


      Ellen, they might celebrate on different Sundays but at least both countries recognize Mother's Day in May, which is nice. Thank-you for filling in the gaps.


      Anamika, thanks very much! Glad I was able to shed a little light on that for you. :)


      Thank-you, Nancy.


      CCDursina, I appreciate you saying so. Thanks for the comment.


      Hi, DrBJ. I agree with you. We get busy and don't give mom as much thought as we should, sometimes. Thank-you for coming by.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 8 years ago from south Florida

      Mother's Day iw a wonderful holiday. Too bad many adult children don't think of their mothers more on the other 364 days.

    • ccdursina profile image

      Carolina Dursina 8 years ago from Spring Green WI

      Great pictures for such a good article; thank you for the info!

    • profile image

      Nancy's Niche 8 years ago

      Interesting and informative article...Thanks for sharing this information...

    • Anamika S profile image

      Anamika S 8 years ago from Mumbai - Maharashtra, India

      Wonderful Hub on Mothers Day history! I did not know that the tradition started by honoring a dead Mom. Thanks for the share!

    • EllenGraeger profile image

      EllenGraeger 8 years ago from Madrid

      How nice to be reminded of Mother's Day and where it comes from. In Germany it is celebrated on the first Sunday in May, in Spain on the second.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 8 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Interesting. I always wondered why Mother's Day was celebrated at a differnt time in the UK to the USA

    • ocbill profile image

      ocbill 8 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

      great and enjoyable hub. A nice relief from local news.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 8 years ago from London, UK

      That is interesting. I never thought about it nor knew that there was a history. Thank you. England has Mother's Day on the second Sunday in March.

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I'm glad that you enjoyed it, Enelle. I think the sentiment still stands, regardless of the fact that it has a commercial aspect to it, now. I forgot about sewing cards! Yes, I did that too, seems to me that I found it fun to do. Those kinds of gifts are a mom's favourite, I believe. I know they were mine. Thanks for coming by, Enelle. Always good to see you.

      Thank-you, Advisor. Glad you found the history of Mother's Day an interesting read. Honestly, before I wrote this article for the paper, I hadn't ever given it any thought but it turned out to be an engaging topic (for me, anyway).

    • advisor4qb profile image

      advisor4qb 8 years ago from On New Footing

      Interesting! I love reading about history! It's always nice to hear where certain traditions originated. Thanks!

    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 8 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      I really enjoyed this hub Shirley. It was wonderful to see where our tradition came from, even if it is a commercialized day to many. I can remember making cards and sewing books for my mother when I was in elementary school, and was touched to see that she kept everything I had made.

      Thank you for this.