A History of Mother’s Day

On Sunday many Australians will spend the day celebrating their mothers and other special women in their lives.

The modern Australian celebration of Mother’s Day actually grew out of calls for peace and anti-war campaigns following the American Civil War (1861-65).

In 1870, American writer and women’s rights activist Julia Ward Howe appealed to women to unite and bring peace throughout the world (later known as the Mother’s Day Proclamation).  Howe wanted mothers to come together to stop their sons from fighting against each other. However, Howe’s version of Mother’s Day only lasted a few years.

The idea of a mother’s day did not gain traction until 1908, when West Virginia woman Anna Marie Jarvis held a church memorial to honour the legacy of her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis.

Ann Jarvis had been a peace activist who nursed wounded soldiers during the Civil War and created mother’s day work clubs to address public health issues.

Anna Jarvis wanted to continue her mother’s work and pushed to have a day set aside to honour all mothers.

In 1914 her campaigning paid off, when US president Woodrow Wilson officially declared the second Sunday in May to be Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day in Australia

It was not until 1924, following the losses of World War I, that Mother’s Day was first held in Australia.

Sydney woman Janet Heyden started the tradition after becoming concerned for the lonely, forgotten aged mothers at Newington State Hospital where she regularly visited a friend.

Ms Heyden asked schools and businesses to donate gifts to the women at the hospital, many of whom had lost their husbands and sons in World War I or had never been wives or mothers because of the war.