Nowadays we celebrate on Mother's Day, but it's not always been that way... / Picture Credit: Pixabay
Nowadays we celebrate on Mother's Day, but it's not always been that way... / Picture Credit: Pixabay

With Mothering Sunday fast approaching, we’re reflecting on the radical reasons women of the American Civil War sought a day of recognition for the work maternal figures do everywhere. Where now there is often a saccharine sweetness to the gifts and cards that mothers receive, it began as the nominated day for activism around women’s rights.

The mother behind Mother's Day

Suffragist Julia Howe is most associated with the first iteration of Mother’s Day, back in 1870. She held the common first-wave feminist belief that (white) mothers could and should have a political voice to shape their world, outside of the confines of providing for their children and spouse, having witnessed first-hand the impact of the civil war on the women around her.

This initial idea for Mother’s Day was designed with the hopes that women could use their influence on the next generations to consider the broader implications of war (socioeconomic factors such as the hunger, disease, and domestic violence it promotes) and dissuade them from it.

The Mother’s Day we know – specifically celebrating individual mothers – began through Anna Jarvis in 1908. Her lobbying for the day to be nationalised followed the same wishes of her mother: pacifist and abolitionist Ann Reeves Jarvis. They wished to “commemorate the matchless service she [the mother] renders to humanity in every field of life.”

A more family-focused agenda made politicians much more open to the possibility. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson declared the national day but spoke with a contorted agenda. Disappointingly for Jarvis, Wilson pushed women’s necessity to remain in the home: their talents should be spent preparing the paid labourers (husband, son) for their day, which completely squashed the suffragist message for the day.

The importance of Mother's Day today

The ongoing campaigning by feminists worldwide ensures that women are given a more significant opportunity to earn financial freedom and explore their passions within paid roles. So why is it that housework is still the invisible, unwaged prerogative of the female?

There is still an extreme level of pressure for women to be it all without revealing the rest of themselves in the wrong places. For example, a woman should have a work-life balance raising children and having a solid career, but one should not interfere with the other.

During the pandemic, we’ve seen the strains of these expectations exacerbated. According to the World Health Organisation records, women constitute most healthcare providers worldwide, in both professional roles and as primary casual caregivers in the home.

Once governments shut public places down, people returned home: homes became offices and nurseries. Once again, the onus was mainly on the maternal figures of the households to soothe and balance.

According to The Lancet’s study, the impact of the pandemic has differentially affected women, as they were thereby disproportionately at risk of infection. Yet, they tirelessly, and often thanklessly, work for the bettering of others.

With all that in mind...

Modern-day Mother’s Day should be a moment to reflect on ongoing activism for women’s rights, whilst we also express kindness and gratitude to the maternal figures in our lives.

Words by Sophie Crabtree for Female First, who you can follow on Twitter, @CrabSophie.

RELATED: What does it mean to dream about Mother's Day?

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