The History of Mother’s Day

Mother's day Australia

The History of Mother’s Day

On the second Sunday of May, many Australian’s will acknowledge their mothers and motherly figures in their lives by celebrating what is known commonly as Mother’s Day.  Every year we seek out Mother’s Day gift ideas as we want to spoil them with something different. It has been on our Australian calendars for quite some time now, but what is the history of Mother’s Day? And how did the day come to be?

Often gifts are shared, such as flowers and handmade cards.  Self-care gifts are always popular such as pyjamas, slippers or a beautifully scented candle.  Something that will encourage her to take some time off for herself and have a relaxing day will be a winner.  Breakfast in bed is always a favourite!

history of mother's day gift ideas

The History of Mother’s Day starts in America back in 1870 when a writer (and women’s rights activist) named Julia Ward Howe called for all women to unite and bring peace across the world.

This was later referred to as the Mother’s Day Proclamation.

Julia proposed that in June every year a mother’s day for peace would be remembered.

However it really didn’t take off until around 1908 when a lady from West Virginia named Anna Marie Jarvis wanted to honour the legacy of her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis at a church memorial.

Anna’s mother had been a peace activist nursing wounded soldiers during the Civil War.  Here she gathered help with other women to address public health issues.  Anna wanted to continue this work and proposed a day be set aside that would honour all mothers.

history of mother's day gift ideas

Anna Jarvis

All her hard work finally paid off when US President Wilson recognised Anna’s campaigning by declaring the second Sunday in May to be Mother’s Day.

Jarvis always believed that she was a leader for the commemorative day. She believed strongly in preserving the sentimental significance of the day to honour mothers and motherhood.  The white carnation became a symbol of the day, as Jarvis explained:

“The carnation does not drop its petals, but hugs them to its heart as it dies, and so, too, mothers hug their children to their hearts, their mother’s love never dying”.

history of mother's day gift ideas

White Carnation Flower

However due to how quickly the commercialism rose for the day, it overwhelmed her original message.

By the 1920s, the price of white carnations increased significantly and red carnations were introduced to meet the demand.

It was then understood that red carnations represented living mothers and white carnations honoured those mothers who have passed.

Anna was very against the commercial overtones the day now represented.

history of mother's day gift ideas

Anna Jarvis with bouquet of white carnations

Anna’s efforts to hold onto the sentimental significance of the day led her to her own financial demise.  Whilst the florist and greeting card industries flourished, Jarvis struggled as she spent her later years petitioning to have Mother’s Day rescinded.

Sadly, Jarvis died on 24 November 1948 in a sanitarium where her medical bills were paid by florists and people in the greeting card industries.

Her grandniece was the only heir to her estate, as Anna herself never married or had any children.

Mother’s Day – Australia

Australia celebrated Mother’s Day for the first time in 1910 with special church services.  The tradition of gift giving started much later in 1924.

This was bought about by a Sydney woman, Janet Heyden, who worked at the Newington State Hospital.  She was on the committee of the Home for Destitute Women and Children in Strathfield.

Janet noticed how there were a number of lonely, elderly mothers there who were forgotten about and she wanted to do something to brighten their days.

history of mother's day gift ideas

Janet Heyden. (Image via the Australian Women’s Weekly)

Ms Heyden asked schools and business as well as appealed to the wider public through the local newspapers if they would donate gifts. These gifts would be passed onto women at the hospital who had lost their husbands and sons in World War 1.  Some had never been wives or mothers because of the war.

The gifts came pouring in!  Hairpins and bars of soap were extremely well received.

“For seven years in succession the appeal through the newspapers made sure that hundreds of mothers who would otherwise have been forgotten received a Mother’s Day gift,” she said.

Heyden’s tradition of honouring mums with a gift and a card became widely popular.  Soon all around Australia, families were celebrating with their mums on Mother’s Day.

history of mother's day gift ideas

Children in Burwood (circa 1930s) with Mother’s Day gifts. (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images)

Don’t forget to remember your Mum, Grandmother, Auntie or the mother figure in your life by honouring how special she is.  You don’t always have to come bearing gifts as a special visit is always welcome or if you’re not close by, a long chat over the phone will be well received.

How are you honouring your Mum this Mother’s Day?

Wishing you good nights & days ahead,


Take me back to the shop now please!

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