Defining the role of 'mother' is neither exhaustive nor universal and any definition of 'mother' may differ based on how social, cultural, and religious roles are defined. A 'mother', whether biological, adoptive, or stepmother (other mother), is usually the primary caregiver, fulfilling the main social role in raising the child(ren).
One of the more famous mother's in history, is Mary, Mother of Jesus, also known as Saint Mary or the Blessed Virgin Mary. The New Testament describes Mary as a virgin who conceived her son miraculously by the command of God. This took place when Mary, at the age of 12 or 13, was already betrothed to a carpenter named Joseph and was awaiting marriage. The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced her divine selection to be the mother of Jesus. After marrying Joseph she travelled with him to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.
Although Mary's life held great honor, her calling would demand great suffering as well. Just as there is pain in childbirth and motherhood, there would be much pain in the privilege of being the mother of the Messiah.
Mother Teresa is another well known 'mother'. While not a 'typical' mother in the sense that we have come to define, was a Roman Catholic sister and missionary who lived most of her life in India. Mother Teresa was widely admired by many for her charitable works, giving wholehearted free service. She ran hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis; soup kitchens, mobile clinics, children's and family counselling programs, orphanages and schools. She was, in every sense, a mother to the poorest of the poor.
Mother's Day is a celebration honoring motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society.
In England, during the 1600's, Christians celebrated a day to honor Mary, the mother of Christ. The holiday, celebrated on the 4th Sunday of Lent, was later expanded to include all mothers, and called 'Mothering Sunday', which included a cake called the mothering cake. Servants would have this day off and were encouraged to spend the day with their mothers.
As Christianity spread throughout Europe the celebration changed to honor the 'Mother Church' and over time the church festival blended with the 'Mothering Sunday' celebration with people honoring mothers as well as the church. This tradition slowly ceased with the passage of time.
In the United States, Mother's Day was loosely inspired by the British day and was first suggested after the American Civil War by social activist Julia Ward Howe. Julia, born to Wall Street stockbroker, Samuel Ward III, was a prominent social activist and poet, and the author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", which she was inspired to write in November 1861 after she and her husband met with Abraham Lincoln at the White House. It quickly became one of the most popular songs of the Union during the American Civil War.
After the war Julia decided to become active in reform and focused her activities on the causes of pacifism and women's suffrage. She founded many women's clubs and associations and in 1870, became president of the New England Women’s Club and founded the weekly "Woman’s Journal", a suffragist magazine which was widely read. That same year, she wrote her "Appeal to womanhood throughout the world" to rise against war, later known as 'Mother's Day Proclamation', asking women from around the world to join for world peace. In 1872, she asked that "Mother's Day" be celebrated on the 2nd of June; however, her efforts were unsuccessful.
Mother's Day was first celebrated in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother in Grafton, West Virginia, honoring her own mother by continuing work she started and to set aside a day to honor mothers. Her campaign to make Mother's Day a recognized holiday in the United States began in 1905, the year her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, died. Large jars of white carnations were set about the platform where the service was conducted. At the end of the exercise one of these white carnations was given to each person present as a souvenir of Mother's Day.
Anna, preferring to remain unmarried, spent many years looking after her ailing mother. When her mother died in Philadelphia on May 9, 1905, Anna missed her greatly and felt children often neglected to appreciate their mother enough while the mother was still alive.
Anna's mother was a peace activist who cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the Civil War and created Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address public health issues. Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, a young Appalachian homemaker who, starting in 1858, had attempted to improve sanitation through what she called 'Mothers Friendship Day'. In the 1900's, at a time when most women devoted their time solely on their family and homes, Jarvis was working to assist in the healing of the nation after the Civil War.
Due to Anna's campaign efforts, several states officially recognized Mother's Day, the first in 1910 being West Virginia, Jarvis’ home state. In 1914 Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation creating Mother’s Day, the second Sunday in May, as a national holiday to honor mothers. It soon crossed national boundaries into Mexico, Canada, South America, China, Japan and Africa.
By the early 1920's, Hallmark and other companies started selling Mother's Day cards. The commercialization of Mother's Day soon caused Anna to become resentful and angry that companies would profit from the holiday. Jarvis became so embittered by what she saw as misinterpretation and exploitation that she protested and tried to rescind Mother's Day.
The holiday that she worked so hard for was supposed to be about sentiment. Jarvis organized boycotts and threatened lawsuits to try to stop the commercialization. She crashed a candymakers' convention in Philadelphia in 1923, and two years later protested the American War Mothers, which raised money by selling carnations, the flower associated with Mother’s Day, and was arrested for disturbing the peace.
In 1933, Roosevelt’s first year in office, Mrs. H. McCluer of Kansas City, a past National President of the American War Mothers, put forth the idea of having a special stamp for use in conjunction with Mother's Day mail. After presenting her idea to President Roosevelt on January 25, 1934, was informed on February 16 that her request had been granted.
President Roosevelt, known to have been devoted to his own mother, personally sketched his idea for the stamp.
Jarvis's holiday was adopted by other countries and it is now celebrated all over the world. According to the National Restaurant Association, Mother's Day is now the most popular day of the year to dine out at a restaurant.
Mother's Day continues to this day to be one of the most commercially successful occasions.