Ask McGehee

    In 1914, Congress designated the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. The idea for such a day stretched back to 1868 when a West Virginian named Ann Jarvis sought to establish “Mother’s Friendship Day” as a way to reunite families divided by the Civil War. Others took up the cause and tried to link it to anti-war efforts or the temperance movement, but Mrs. Jarvis’ daughter continued to push for a day honoring mothers long after her own was deceased.

    President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation in 1914 declaring Mother’s Day was a day to fly the American flag to honor all those mothers who had lost their sons to war. Miss Jarvis promoted the idea of wearing a white carnation, since it had been her mother’s favorite bud.  

    By 1916, Mobilians had certainly embraced the idea of Mother’s Day. On May 13 of that year, the Mobile Register noted that the mayor had made an official proclamation: “I, Mayor Pat J. Lyons, as mayor of the City of Mobile, do hereby designate Sunday, the 14th day of May, 1916, to be Mother’s Day, and commend its observation by attendance upon religious services, the wearing of flowers by all persons and the display of flags on all public buildings and in public places.” 

    A Day of Church and Tributes

    The Mobile Church Federation convinced the Mobile Light and Railroad Company to observe the day by stopping every streetcar for three minutes at noon “in order that the conductors and motormen may give this brief period to silent tribute to their mothers.” The Federation also provided each of the men with a white carnation to wear in his lapel.

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    In a letter dated May 13, 1916, Mobile’s Coca-Cola bottler Walter Bellingrath took the holiday to heart and wrote his mother, “Others may have been blessed with more wealth and worldly goods, but none were ever blessed with purer, godlier or better parents than we your children. As day after day of the evening of your life slips past, may God grant that each of us prove a greater and greater blessing to you and our fellow man.”

    Within eight years of establishing Mother’s Day nationwide, the greeting card industry had made the day the third largest holiday in the U.S. for mailing cards. Miss Jarvis was disgusted by the commercialization of the holiday, declaring that such cards were “a sign of being too lazy to write a proper note.” She would spend the rest of her life and inheritance fighting an uphill battle.

    Ironically, the commercialization Miss Jarvis disliked so greatly has ensured the holiday will continue forever. And while church attendance has fallen, the streetcars are gone and the wearing of carnations has been forgotten, the holiday now lives on as the most popular day in America to dine out. 

    Text by Tom McGehee

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