Progressive Revival

Most people think of Mother’s Day as a quaint and
conservative holiday honoring 1950s values, a sort of historical throw back to
traditional notions of hearth and home.

Let’s correct that impression by saying:  Happy Progressive Mother’s Day.

In May 1907, Anna Jarvis, a member of a Methodist
congregation in Grafton, West Virginia, passed out 500 white carnations in
church to commemorate the life of her mother.   One year later, the same Methodist church created a
special service to honor mothers.  
Many progressive Christian organizations–like the YMCA and the World
Sunday School Association–picked up the cause and lobbied Congress to make
Mother’s Day a national holiday. 
And, in 1914, Democratic President Woodrow Wilson made it official and
signed Mother’s Day into law.  Thus
began the modern celebration of Mother’s Day in the United States.  

Anna Jarvis intended the new holiday to honor all mothers
beginning with her own–Anna Reeves Jarvis, who had died in 1905.  Although now largely forgotten, Anna
Reeves Jarvis was a social activist and community organizer.  In 1858, Anna Reeves Jarvis organized
poor women in West Virginia into “Mothers’ Work Day Clubs” to raise the issue
of clean water and sanitation in relation to the lives of women and
children.  She also worked for
universal access to medicine for the poor.  Reeves Jarvis was a pacifist who served both sides in
the Civil War by working for camp sanitation and medical care for soldiers of
the North and the South.  In short,
Mother’s Day was founded to celebrate a radical community organizer who favored
universal health care and was a pacifist.

The first Mother’s Day wasn’t sentimental or old-fashioned at all.  It was about work, motherhood, health care, peace, and politics–and making the world a better place for women and their children.

Happy Progressive Mother’s Day!  And give some radical women in your life a hug today.

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