Listen to the memory palace podcast for the best version of this story but to summarize Mother‘s Day was supposed to be Mothers’ Day. A Day to fight for and recognize the work that women do in a home as equal in worth to work outside the home.
It was an idea created by Anna Jarvis when she wanted to pursue the work done by her mother. Her mother was also Anna Jarvis and in the mid 19th century she was an activist for women’s rights. She spend her life teaching women about healthcare and their workplace rights.
After she died, her daughter wanted to continue that legacy by bringing her campaign for women’s work into proper respect and she thought that if we had a Holiday it would raise awareness and respect for the work women do inside a home. A day that would bring women together to fight for their rights in their unpaid work. So as a legacy to her mother she focused herself on that task and won. Congress declared Mother’s Day.
And almost immediately it became a commercialized day about saying I love you to your Mom. Which upset Anna Jarvis A LOT. Because it was supposed to be about the bigger issue. It wasn’t supposed to be a Hallmark Holiday that exploits your love for you mother into a money making venture.
So instead of being able to rest on her laurels, she spent the rest of her life fighting the commercialization of a Holiday she created to change the perceived role of women in our culture. She died alone in a nursing home surrounded by Hallmark cards and candy that her oblivious fans continued to send her. She was never a mother.
Now, of course, no one knows the real reason Mother’s Day was brought into existence. And it’s hard to call the celebration of our affection for our particular parent a bad thing, because of course it’s not.
But it’s also true that we still have the problem of getting respect for the unpaid labor of Moms. That terrible term Mothers Who Don’t Work continues to plague us. We have started to head more into the direction of shared parenting, but it remains a cultural norm that women are the responsible party for all child rearing and house care and men are just helping. Clearly a holiday isn’t the route to take on improving that though.