Monday Musings…. 21st Century Mothers, Meet Your 19th Century Counterpart!
I can remember a number of years ago, someone taking me to task for being a ‘working mother’. My response was that all mothers work.
As the calendar page turns to the month of May, a common query is: “so, what do I get my mother?” Droves phone flower shops, or scour stores for the finest chocolate, or schedule a spa-cation to acknowledge the ‘work’ Mother has done.
But what’s so interesting about this year is that it was pretty difficult to procure that perfect gift. The day-away for pampering with a pedicure, manicure, and massage that you thought would exceed your siblings’ efforts, well, those niceties are considered non-essential. Things you wanted to order online were sold out; they couldn’t be shipped to Canada; or the wait times were past the desired due date. And if your mother lives out of town in a rural community, good luck sending flowers. This covid crisis really put a damper on Mother’s Day motivations, didn’t it?
Well, Mother’s Day never set out to be a materialistic marker in history in the first place. The most common reference to the origins of the observance of mothers, on the second Sunday in May, goes to a single woman by the name of Anna Jarvis from West Virginia. (K. L. Antolini, Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Struggle for Control of Mother's Day, 2009). Anna grew up watching her mother care for wounded soldiers during the US Civil War, and in 1908, three years after her mother’s death, she held a memorial in her honour. Anna lobbied politically to have a day set apart to recognize the work performed by her mother, and so many other women, who helped care for and stabilize the nation during and after the war. In 1914, United States President, Woodrow Wilson agreed and the annual celebration received the stamp of approval.
Anna Jarvis’ mother, Ann, lived during perilous and uncertain times. She was exposed to significant suffering and loss, and I’m not just talking about war. The country was plagued with the measles, typhoid fever, and diphtheria epidemics. Those viral villains would claim the lives of most of her children, sparing only four.
Ann Jarvis became a community advocate to combat childhood disease and improve sanitary conditions, and in 1858 started Mothers’ Day Work Clubs teaching and promoting public health. She raised funds for medicine for those who couldn’t afford it, and created a network to hire women to assist mothers who were suffering from their own health problems and therefore, had difficulty meeting the needs of their families. When the Civil War started in 1861, her Work Clubs continued, and she intentionally had the clubs declare themselves to be neutral, so they could assist both the Confederate and Union soldiers.
Ann Jarvis was not a front-line soldier during the Civil War, but her service was essential. Because of her selfless efforts, and those in her Work Clubs, many lives were saved. What’s so interesting, is that she was valued so highly that politicians consulted her for ideas to bring healing from the emotional and physical scars that remained following the war.
This ‘working’ mother continued her community efforts for the rest of her life as she taught Sunday school, became a superintendent in the Methodist church she attended, and was a gifted speaker on the topics of faith, family, health, and the importance of literacy.
Ann Jarvis died on May 8th, 1905 at the age of 73, and so now you know why we celebrate Mother’s Day, and why the date is in May. If you were to see her tombstone you would notice her birth date and death date. But what is most important is the hyphen between those two dates, and the work she performed during those years she was given. That is the legacy of every mother.
For a mother’s work is a labour of love, of continual selfless acts for her family and for her community. The hours are long, and the pay is poor, but the rewards of lives saved, of conflicts ended, of restoration to health in mind, soul, and body at the end of each day are worth all of her efforts.
While we typically think of the word mother as a noun; for those of us who are mothers, we know it is a verb – a word of action!
So, no matter whether you colloquially call yourself a ‘stay-at-home’ mom, or a ‘working’ mom, you all work. And so, you should be valued, not just on Mother's Day, but every day. I hope that your children rose up yesterday morning, and told you how blessed they are, and how grateful they are for the work that you have done in their lives. This was Anna Jarvis’ gift to her mother and the intention for this auspicious occasion that we’ve been celebrating now for over 100 years.
“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies…. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed, her husband also, and he praises her:” Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” Proverbs 31: 10, 25-31
Love is an action that hopefully comes full circle, as you'll see in this video based on one of my favourite books that I read to my children.