I'm looking forward to sleeping in and waking up to a delicious home-cooked breakfast on Sunday, but Mother's Day was not always about breakfast in bed, or even the second-most expensive day to buy flowers.
The first American Mother's Day was in 1870, created by suffragist and abolishionist Julia Ward Howe. Howe is most remembered for writing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but after witnessing the continuing horrors of the Civil War, she called on women to work toward peace:
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
With no political power, and very little sway in commerce, Howe hoped to use women's role as mothers — considered at the time the moral center of the family and the nation — to put an end to killing of their hubands and sons.
Mother's Day became a nationally recognized holiday through the work of Anna Marie Jarvis. Her mother, Ann Jarvis, had also called for mothers to come together during the Civil War. She spent her life providing nursing and sanitation care to people both sides of the conflict. Her Mother's Friendship Day sought to reunite families separated by the war.
Following her mother's death in 1905, Anna hoped to continue her mother's life work and to honor her mother by having the church in which her mother taught sunday school, set aside a day to honor her and all mothers. She celebrated with carnations, her mother's favorite flower — white to honor mothers who were deceased and red to honor those that were living.
This time the holiday took hold. By 1914 it was an official U.S. holiday, but it had also been commercialized. Anna was not pleased:
"I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit." She opposed the selling of flowers and also the use of greeting cards: "a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write."
I've never been much for the commercialization of holidays either, and I'm not alone. Moms are not only remembering the origins of the holiday but using it to work towards the betterment of our communities and the lives of mothers the world over.
In many places motherhood is a dangerous prospect. According to the World Health Organization 1,000 women die every day becauze of complications due to pregnancy and birth. Maternal and infant deaths, or debilitating lifelong ailments, often happen because of a lack of basic medical supplies.
Every Mother Counts works to bring an end to these often preventable deaths all year long. This year they are calling for No Mother's Day, asking moms to be silent to bring attention to the women and girls who have been lost, or to ask their families to donate to help lower maternal mortality rather than buying them gifts.
Bloggers for Birth Kits asks for help assembling simple and inexpensive kits to be sent to Papua New Guinea, where 1 in 7 mothers dies in childbirth.
The Birthing Kit Foundation provides kits the world over. You can make a donation in honor of a mother in your life and they will send a handwritten card telling the recipient how the gift is helping.
At Amnesty International you can send cards to world leaders, including our own, asking them to make reducing maternal mortality a priority.
Sleeping in and breakfast in bed is a great way to celebrate Mother's Day, but to be honest, my husband gives me those gifts all the time, so I don't really need a day to celebrate me. I hope to use the holiday to enjoy all the wonderful things that come with motherhood — I am definitely looking forward to hand-drawn cards and maccaroni necklaces — while keeping in mind the many ways mothers can work together to make the world and the lives of other mothers and their children better.
This piece first appeared on Alameda Patch.