Ah, May! I always associate this month with other "M" words like marigolds, may apples in the woods, mushrooms hidden among those may apples awaiting discovery, and, of course, Memorial Day, all welcome signs of an approaching summer. Ever since becoming involved in the hospitality industry, I have also come to associate May with another "M" word: mother. Since 1914, the second Sunday in May has been set aside as Mother’s Day in honor of all mothers who humbly and stoically carry out their daily tasks of family management. The holiday has become one of the busiest retail shopping occasions of the year. In fact, Mother’s Day has supplanted Valentine’s Day as the busiest day of the year in the restaurant industry. The amazing thing is that the commercialization of the holiday is antithetical to the objectives of the person behind the founding of the modern Mother’s Day holiday.

The first Mother’s Day was observed by the ancient Greeks, who celebrated in honor of Rhea, the mother of the gods. Ancient Romans also celebrated a Mother’s Day in honor of Cybele, a mother goddess. Evidently, some celebrations turned riotous, as Cybelean worshippers were banished from Rome. 

The first effort to establish a Mother’s Day in the United States was attempted by Julia Ward Howe in the 1870s. Already famous for writing The Battle Hymn of the Republic during the Civil War, Ward Howe was a notorious political activist. In 1870, she tried to issue a manifesto for peace at international peace conferences in London and Paris. In 1872, she began promoting the idea of a "Mother's Day for Peace" to be celebrated on June 2, honoring peace, motherhood, and womanhood. These celebrations continued on and off for 30 years.

The woman behind the official establishment of Mother’s Day was Anna Jarvis, who swore on her mother’s grave to establish a Mother’s Day honoring all mothers, living and dead. President Woodrow Wilson eventually signed a joint resolution establishing Mother’s Day in 1914. This resolution emphasized women’s role in the family and not as political activists.

Mother’s Day quickly became a commercial boon for retail stores. In fact, Anna Jarvis grew quite alarmed at the excessive commercialization of the holiday, saying she wanted it to be “a day of sentiment, not profit.” She even led a public protest over the observance of the holiday which led to her arrest for disturbing the peace in 1923. In spite of her objections, Mother’s Day became the day to commemorate not only mothers, but the entire family as well. It quickly became tradition to dine out with the entire family on Mother’s Day to give mom a break from her kitchen duties.

Feature image via GrantKingsleyWarner.