Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

While killing time on the internets, I discovered that today is the 100th anniversary of Mother's Day. The idea for Mother's Day came from a woman named Anna Jarvis, whose mother remarked to her that somebody should create a memorial to mothers. In 1908, Jarvis organized the first Mother's Day service at her church, where her mother had taught Sunday school for over 20 years. President Woodrow Wilson signed a resolution in 1914 that officially made Mother's Day the second Sunday in May.

Ironically, Jarvis came to despise the commerciality that sprang up around the holiday she created. She was even arrested for disturbing the peace when she protested at a Mother's Day celebration held in New York some years later. Jarvis was unhappy that the day had turned into an excuse to sell candy and greeting cards. She had intended for it to be a celebration of old-fashioned motherhood, and thought the ideal Mother's Day gift was a white carnation, signifying the purity of motherhood.

Most women today, though, wouldn't care for many facets of old-fashioned motherhood, as this Christian Science Monitor article suggests:

"It's not a time to be romanticized," says Stephanie Coontz, a historian and author of "Marriage: A History." "Mothers in 1908 spent less time mothering than they do today. Even in the middle classes, they spent much less time with their kids than we would have imagined."

One reason for this time deficit involves work. "Most families needed several wage earners," Ms. Coontz says. "Women took in boarders, did sewing at home, cleaning, and all sorts of jobs that weren't counted as jobs on the Census but were time-consuming."

A photo from that era shows a mother balancing a baby on her lap while she assembles cigarettes at her kitchen table. Two other children stand nearby.

Even mothers without paid employment labored endlessly doing housework. In 1908, a New York settlement worker estimated that the average woman, even in middle-class families, spent 40 hours a week just cleaning and shopping. Laundry was an arduous, two-day task, washing one day and ironing the next. Wood and coal stoves required tending and cleaning.

Like my grandpa used to say, the "good ol' days" weren't necessarily so good.

And then we have Kansas Congressman Todd Tiahrt:

Immediately after Congress agreed, unanimously, to "celebrate the role of Mothers in the United States" and support Mother's Day, Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, stood and called for a second vote. He then joined 177 other GOP Congressmen in voting to re-think the matter.

Tiahrt did this because Republicans were angry that the Democrats had shut them out of the debate on funding of troops in a supplemental spending bill. The idea was that the Republicans would retaliate by slowing down business in the House by requiring that everything be voted upon twice. Even motherhood. Not to worry, though: Tiahrt wants us to know that he still supports Mother's Day, and Father's Day too.

Hope your Mother's Day is a good one!