Celebrating Mothers

President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation on May 9, 1914, asking Americans to give a public expression of reverence to mothers through the celebration of Mother’s Day. Carnations have come to represent the day as they were distributed at one of the first commemorations honoring the mother of the founder of Mother’s Day.

Woodrow Wilson…with His Wife and Three Daughters. c1912. Prints & Photographs Division

Anna Jarvis, a Grafton, West Virginia native, is credited with conceiving and launching the campaign that resulted in the creation of a national day honoring mothers in the United States. Legislative actions and annual Congressional proclamations documented in the Congressional Record praise her tireless efforts to create a lasting commemoration to her mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis, as well as to all mothers, living and deceased.

After her mother’s death on May 9, 1905, Anna Jarvis was determined to fulfill her mother’s hope that a Memorial Mothers Day be established to recognize the important roles that mothers play in the family, church, and community. Anna Reeves Jarvis embodied the attributes of many nineteenth-century women who believed that mothers, and in fact all women, could be a powerful force in their communities. Mrs. Jarvis acted upon her beliefs and created Mothers Day Work Clubs that tackled local problems such as poor sanitary conditions and epidemic diseases. When the Civil War came to Grafton, these clubs turned to nursing soldiers on both sides of the conflict and trying to stave off division in the community.

The Close of Day. Elizabeth Nourse, artist; photograph of painting at the Toledo Museum of Art, c[between 1900 & 1912]. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

Other women appealed to the organized force of mothers for various causes—for example, Julia Ward Howe, who had worked with the widows and orphans of Civil War soldiers. When the Franco-Prussian War erupted in 1870, Mrs. Howe issued her declaration, Appeal to Womanhood throughout the World urging mothers to unite for the cause of peace. Woman suffrage was another important cause of the time. Mothers such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Elizabeth Smith Miller, as well as Julia Ward Howe, were pivotal in organizing women to rally for their right to vote.

Anna Jarvis’ efforts to honor her mother’s accomplishments encompassed all of these women, as step by step, from local recognition in Grafton in 1908, to the state of West Virginia’s proclamation in 1910, the national holiday became reality.

That Wonderful Mother of MineExternal. Walter Goodwin, music; Clyde Hager, lyrics. New York: M. Witmark & Sons, 1918. Historic American Sheet MusicExternal. Duke University Libraries

The moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of that wonderful mother of mine;
The birds never sing but a message they bring
Of that wonderful mother of mine.

The Library’s collections are rich in materials that relate to the lives of mothers, their children and their communities. For example, see an image of a new mother, Frances Yokoyama, enjoying her newborn baby, Fukomoto, while being held in the Manzanar Relocation Center during World War II; read a letter from Jennie Bernstein to her son Leonard, or listen to a Portuguese fado, “Minha mai minha amada” (“O my mother, my beloved”).

Navajo TwinsExternal Mullarky Photo. Denver Public Library Digital CollectionsExternal
Baltimore Branch NAACP Baby Contest Winners, 1946. Visual Materials from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Records. Prints & Photographs Division
Pedro Pelacho? Group, 1919External. Runyon (Robert) Photograph CollectionExternal. Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas/Austin

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Join, Or Die

On May 9, 1754, Join, or Die, considered to be the first American political cartoon, was printed in The Pennsylvania Gazette. The impetus for the cartoon, which is thought to have been devised by Benjamin Franklin, was concern about increasing French pressure along the western frontier of the colonies.

Join, or Die. Illus. in: The Pennsylvania Gazette, May 9, 1754. Prints & Photographs Division

To find out more information about how the colonies eventually united with the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, see the online exhibition Declaring Independence, Drafting the Documents.

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Siege of Fort Meigs

On May 9, 1813, General William Henry Harrison turned back a siege of Fort Meigs by Shawnee military leader Tecumseh and British general Henry A. Proctor. The fort, built under the supervision of Harrison in order to protect northwest Ohio and Indiana from British invasion, was located on the Maumee River above Toledo, Ohio.

Plan of Fort Meigs’ and its environs… William Sebree, [1813]. Military Battles and Campaigns. Geography & Map Division

Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa, known as “The Prophet,” were leaders of a movement among Native American leaders in Ohio and Indiana to defend against European and European-American invasion. He joined forces with the British against the Americans at the outset of the War of 1812.

After American Oliver Hazard Perry defeated the British fleet at the Battle of Lake Erie on September 10, 1813, Harrison began pursuing Tecumseh and Proctor into southern Canada. He won a decisive victory on October 5, 1813, at the Thames River in present-day southern Ontario and established U.S. control of the Northwest Territory. The death of Tecumseh, killed in the battle, signaled the end of Native American resistance in the Ohio River valley, the lower Midwest, and South.

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