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The tradition of honoring mothers dates back to the ancient Greeks, whose annual spring festival was dedicated to Rhea, the mother of many Greek deities. The Romans regularly made offerings to Cybele, the Great Mother of Roman Gods. Early Christians turned the Greek and Roman festivals into a celebration of Mary, the mother of Christ, held on the fourth Sunday in Lent. The English expanded the holiday to include all mothers and called it Mothering Sunday.
The United States "version" of Mother's Day began with Anna Maria Reeves Jarvis, who organized a series of Mothers' Day Work Clubs in Webster, Grafton, Fetterman, Pruntytown and Philippi, Virginia (all are now in West Virginia) in the early-1850's. The purpose of the Clubs was to improve health and sanitary conditions by raising money for medicine, hiring women to work for families in which mothers suffered from tuberculosis, inspecting bottled milk and food, etc. In 1860, local doctors supported the formation of clubs in other towns. During the Civil War, Jarvis encouraged the Clubs to provide relief to both Union and Confederate soldiers. In 1865, she organized a Mothers' Friendship Day at cthe ourthouse in Pruntytown to bring together soldiers and neighbors. The event was so successful that it became an annual event. After Anna's husband died in 1902, she moved to Philadelphia, where she lived with one of her daughters, who was also named Anna.
Anna Jarvis died on May 9, 1905, and her daughter almost immediately began lobbying for a day to honor mothers. On May 12, 1907, Anna led a small tribute to her mother at Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia, where her mother had taught Sunday School for many years. The first official Mother's Day ceremonies were held at Andrews Methodist Church on May 10, 1908; ceremonies were held simultaneously at the Wanamaker Store Auditorium in Philadelphia. Mother's Day ceremonies became an annual event in Grafton and Philadelphia from this time, and, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a Congressional Resolution setting aside Mother's Day as a national holiday to be celebrated on the second Sunday in May. It has been a "national holiday" ever since.
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This page was last updated on June 10, 2018.