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Mother's Day 100-year history a colorful tale of love, anger and civic unrest

Published: Tuesday, May 6 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

She didn’t expect — and she loathed — commercialization of the day she considered her intellectual property, Antolini said. In the 1920s, she thought it was being distorted by those making money with preprinted cards and chocolates and commercial bouquets. She called them, among other things, “commercial racketeers,” Antolini said.

Jarvis applied the same fervor she’d used to push for the holiday to her efforts to reshape or eliminate it. She raised a ruckus at a confectioner’s convention. She wrote angry letters and led boycotts. Store-bought gifts defiled her notion of how to honor mothers.

In the mid-'20s, she was outraged because the American War Mothers sold white carnations — the flower she’d associated with Mother’s Day — to fund their group. She went to their gathering and, according to a Kansas City Star report by Tim Engle, “Jarvis was pulled away screaming and arrested for disturbing the peace.”

Still, Antolini believes a part of Jarvis would be proud the holiday is still popular, not just in America but internationally. She’d also be incredibly upset to learn that it’s second to Christmas as a gift-giving occasion.

“She never made money off it,” Antolini said. Jarvis had inherited a fortune from her dad and her brother, but spent it all trying to bring Mother's Day back to her vision or eliminate it. She died in a solarium. Her only profit was that she invested her self-esteem in bringing the holiday about and she enjoyed the notoriety of being Mother’s Day’s mother, Antolini added.

Mothers: A love story

Homesickness is often a yearning for moms who are somewhere else, said Susan J. Matt, chairman of the History Department at Weber State University and author of "Homesickness: An American History." "When people talk about missing home, across the centuries, mothers have had a really central place in memories of what makes a home a home," she said.

In the 19th century, Americans began what Matt calls a "sentimentalization of mothers," who were featured lovingly in songs and stories and heavily celebrated for their virtue. "It began a new focus on mother love, warmth and tender ties."

Mothers were noted for power to encourage kids to grow into good, pious citizens. Focus tightened on mother-child relationships. And Mother’s Day is a modern tale of love and attachment.

Author, speaker and child development specialist Marian Fritzemeier of Modesto, California, has two adult daughters and three grandchildren who will likely honor her with cards and small gifts, as well as a get-together and dinner. They'll juggle the timing of the actual celebration so that her kids' spouses can also celebrate with their moms.

She believes that a child's very future hinges on developing secure relationships and strong emotional bonds. Mother is often among if not the first place those bonds form.

"Attachment is an emotional bond between an infant and a caring adult. It means somebody is responding consistently to the infant," Fritzemeier said. Cries attract someone to figure out what's wrong, whether it's hunger, a need to be burped or stimulated or changed, or just a familiar and loving voice. Moms are often that early primary caregiver, she noted.

Strong, healthy attachment "provides a foundation for life, not just in infancy, but adolescence and into adulthood," she said.

At home, Fritzemeier is surrounded by trinkets and pictures her children have made her. "You don't have to spend a lot of money. A lot of families don't have it. Mother's Day can be breakfast in bed, a meal together, perhaps a barbecue," she said. Pick flowers from your yard or ask to pick your neighbor's.

“Does it mean more when the kids are small and bring home stuff they make and you keep all that stuff — hold onto the handprints, the stuff they color for us?" asks Antolini. "I guess it depends on the mother."

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