The story of Mother’s Day begins in the 1850’s with what was called “Mother’s Work Day.” This wasn’t an annual holiday, but was a regular, frequent day of Christian service to neighbors in need. Ann Reeves Jarvis organized the day as a time for the Christian women of Grafton, West Virginia to get together and help the many poor people living in the surrounding Appalachian hills. They collected and delivered medicines for the poor, made the rounds providing nursing care for the sick, fed hungry children, and provided shelters for children with tuberculosis. The effort grew and soon there were several “Mother’s Work Day CLUBS.”
Then came the Civil War, and West Virginia was one of the worst places to be in the Civil War. West Virginia was a border state, formed by counties that seceded from Virginia when that state seceded from the Union. Many friends and neighbors were divided in their sentiments between the North and the South. West Virginia was also one of only a few states that was a slave state but was not in the Confederacy, and that left the state in an awkward position. And with being right on the border, families separated by even a small distance found themselves on opposite sides in the bloodiest war in American history. It was not uncommon for families to have cousins, even brothers, shooting at each other in the same battles, many of which were fought on West Virginia soil.
There were some members of the “Mother’s Work Day Clubs” from the South and there were some from the North. But right after the war broke out, Mrs. Jarvis called together all the members of her clubs and asked them to make a pledge of continued friendship and good will, and, pledge to continue in their good works together. This was to become very difficult, but most agreed to the idea. Their tasks, however, would be different in war-time. As the battles raged back and forth across their countryside, the Mother’s Work Day Clubs found themselves providing care for the wounded. In a remarkable display of courage and compassion, the women nursed soldiers from both sides, saving many lives, and demonstrating that Christian charity and good will would not be abandoned, even if there was a war going on.
After the war, the Mother’s Work Day Clubs continued, but now the emphasis of their work changed again. Ann Jarvis, who had seen so much suffering and death on both sides, now became a peacemaker. The wounds and animosity between the families who fought on opposite sides were deep and harsh. Mrs. Reeves then organized “Mother’s Friendship Days” in an effort to bring together these former bitter enemies.
Anna Jarvis, the daughter of this incredible woman, saw her mother’s courageous work of love and compassion, and never forgot it. After her mother died in 1905, Anna organized the first Mother’s Day, then just a local observance in Grafton, West Virginia. It was designed to remember the work of her mother and all the other women who worked with her in their acts of kindness and mercy for the sick and the poor and the wounded. In the next few years the idea caught on, and the day became a day to honor all mothers for all of their sacrifices, hard work, and love. In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill recognizing Mother’s Day as a National Holiday.
150 years ago Ann Reeves Jarvis did what mothers have always been doing– providing care to those needing it, along with friendship and good will. Whatever the changing situation demanded of them, her mother’s clubs were there to provide it. That is what mothers do. As Christian mothers fulfill their God-given responsibilities with love, they are also bearing witness to the love of their heavenly father. And when the Biblical writers wanted to convey something of the love of God, the best illustration they could find was the love of mothers and fathers. Even though even that is an imperfect illustration, there is nothing else on earth like it.
II Timothy 1:5 — I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
Isaiah 66:13 — As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you...
Luke 13:34 — (Jesus said), “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
Isaiah 49:15 — “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!,” (says the Lord).
Lord, I hand over to your care, my body and soul, my prayers and my hopes, my health and my work, my life and my death, my parents and my family, my friends and my neighbors, my country and all people. Amen.
–Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626), Bishop and Bible Translator