Our series “Celebrating Motherhood” shares inspiring stories, helpful advice, and insightful recommendations to help you choose the perfect gifts to help you express your love for moms of all types. This article explores the history of Mother’s Day, from ancient times to the present.

The History of Mother's Day

Mothers have been celebrated and honored in cultures since the beginning of human history.  In ancient Egypt festivities were routinely held in honor of the goddess Isis, who was otherwise known as the Mother of the Pharaohs. The ancient Romans and Greeks also paid regular homage to goddesses who produced powerful offspring. Cybele, the mother of Zeus, is just one example. Therefore, the history of celebrating moms stretches back a really long way and slowly evolved into the Mother’s Day we celebrate today.

Mothering Sunday

Many years ago in Europe, the Catholic Church was routinely referred to as the “Mother Church.”  This tradition led to Sunday becoming the official day to honor the church.  

Eventually, it segued into honoring mothers in general.  From the idea of visiting the “Mother Church,” the fourth Sunday of Lent eventually became known as “Mothering Sunday” or “Mothering Day” in England.  On Mothering Sunday, which is still celebrated today (not to be confused with Mother’s Day), children that worked away from home, commonly servants, nannies and apprentices, were able to take the Sunday off to visit their mothers and enjoy a family reunion while visiting their hometown church.  The children often picked up flowers or a small gift along the way which they shared with their Mothers in her honor.

War and its role in the history of Mother’s Day

As counterintuitive as it may seem, some of the origins of Mother’s Day are derived from a major war. A West Virginia housewife named Ann Marie Jeeves Jarvis, who was deeply impacted by the turmoil of the Civil War, started a “Mother’s Friendship Day” to bring concerned mothers together following the war. Julia Ward Howe, who famously penned “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” was inspired by Jarvis and wrote a Mother’s Day proclamation that received a great deal of attention.

Photo of a sign commemorating Philadelphia's role in Mother's Day history

The first official Mother’s Day

Ann Marie Jeeves Jarvis’s daughter, Anna Jarvis, started a letter writing campaign to establish an official Mother’s Day holiday after her own mother passed away. West Virginia was the first state to officially observe Mother’s Day, and it did so for the first time on May 10, 1908.

President Woodrow Wilson made it an official national holiday in 1914.  Since that time, giving gifts like Mother’s Day flowers and gifts to mothers has become a popular tradition, and moms across the country enjoy being honored on their special day.

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