Willoughby: Mother is the greatest word in all languages | AspenTimes.com
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Willoughby: Mother is the greatest word in all languages

If your memory of history lessons from elementary and high school is like mine, you likely found it overweighted with wars and presidents but short on positive cultural changes. I think you would have enjoyed the following, a history of Mother’s Day.

The idea of a day to honor mothers took root in America in 1904-05 with two important adherents, Anna Jarvis and Frank Hering. Jarvis tended to the wounded in the Civil War and became a peace activist. She teamed up with suffragette Julia Ward Howe to promote what she called Mother’s Day for Peace, mothers advocating against wars to prevent their husbands and sons from being maimed or killed. They organized to create a national holiday. Jarvis held what is credited as their first celebration, a religious event at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in West Virginia in 1907.

1924 Eagles conventio — Eagles major force in creation of Mother’s Day.
Aspen Historical Society/Conforti Collection photo

Hering is known as the Father of Mother’s Day. He began organizing in 1904 in Kansas City within the Fraternal Order of Eagles. His efforts focused on supporting mothers of war victims with his group tagged American War Mothers. At a national convention the Eagles created Mother’s Day celebrations for their members in 1912 and were influential in the push to make it a national holiday.



The first attempt to get a male-dominated Congress to create a holiday failed in 1908.The movement grew without their help with many states establishing a holiday by 1911. Congress caught up and passed it in 1914. President Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation creating the second Sunday in May as “a national holiday to honor mothers.”

Aspen didn’t wait for the official holiday. There are notes in The Aspen Times as far back as 1908, with the Eagles and local churches celebrating. The paper advised in 1912, “Put on a white carnation and go to church for mother’s sake.” In those early years the tradition was to wear a white carnation if your mother was not alive and a pink one if she was still alive. The Times in 1914 stated, “Mother is the greatest word in all languages and it represents the greatest personage in all the world. Let us try and appreciate HER from this time on.”




Jarvis lived long enough to see her aspiration come to fruition, but she lamented the commercialization. During World War I, 80,000 letters to mothers from soldiers abroad were delivered just to New York City. Hallmark began producing Mother’s Day cards by 1920.

The commercialization in Aspen began in 1914 with Platt’s advertising flower sales. In192, Aspen Drug began advertising “fancy boxes of candy for her.” Al Lamb’s drugstore entered the fray the next year. By the late 1920 jewel boxes, jewelry, fancy pillows and framed photos were marketed.

Not to be outdone by the Eagles, the Elks national organization established Mother’s Day rituals in 1926. Aspen’s chapter held one that same year with “exercises that will express anew reverence for mothers” that included a carnation for each attending mother. The program expanded after that year with additional events including, as an example, former Exalted Ruler Leonard Shoemaker, the local Forest Service agent, delivering a “tribute to mothers.”

Don’t forget to honor your mother today.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.


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