On Sunday May 12th we will celebrate Mothers’ Day. It’s a wonderful tradition that began in the early twentieth century when Anna Jarvis asked her church, Saint Andrews Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia to hold a special service honoring all mothers, which then took place on May 10, 1908. She was inspired by a prayer once offered by her mother, Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, that there would be a national holiday to honor mothers. The practice took hold across the country and around the world and became a national holiday here in America in 1914. The date of the second Sunday in May was chosen because it was near the date on which Anna’s mother died. But what do we know about Anna’s mother, Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis?
She was the daughter of a Methodist minister and married the son of a Baptist minister who became a businessman in West Virginia. It is estimated that she bore between eleven and thirteen children but only four survived her. Health conditions were very poor in those days and many children never made it to adulthood. Epidemics of cholera, diphtheria, measles and typhoid fever swept through Appalachia in those days, not to mention tuberculosis and a host of other perennial diseases. Anna became a leader in the health and hygiene movement, founding chapters of the Mothers’ Day Work Clubs in several towns and cities in Virginia. These clubs raised money to pay for medicines, food and other things needed by poor women as they struggled to raise their children. They would pay for other women to assist mothers as they cared for their newborns and older children. They also held classes for mothers to teach them about good hygiene practices. Since there were no government consumer safety agencies in those days, they carried out a campaign to inspect milk to make sure it was safe to drink.
Ann was a devoted Christian and taught Sunday school in her church. As the nation began to drift toward war, she did her best to prevent it, striving to hold together her Methodist denomination as members in the south, where she lived, wanted to separate from the northern Methodist churches on the issue of slavery. When the war broke out, she refused to take sides and organized nursing care for both Union and Confederate wounded soldiers. When the war came right into her neighborhood and a union soldier was killed she was the only one willing to offer a prayer at his graveside. After the war, she organized meetings of former soldiers from both sides that sought to heal the understandably bitter resentments between them. She was, in the words of her Master, a peacemaker.
These are just a few of the marvelous things this mother did and it is no wonder that her daughter, who stayed by her side until she died and cared for her, was inspired to fulfill her mother’s prayer that there would be a national day to honor all mothers. I too, have had the privilege of being intimately acquainted with the mothers in my family, especially my own dear mother who is now in heaven and my wonderful wife who continues to serve her family and many others in many ways.
But beyond my own family, I constantly see the great work that mothers do and inspire others to do. For instance, just last evening I was honored to bring the word of God and prayers at a memorial for Margaret Crutcher’s mother, Ruth, who died last week in Kenya at the age of 89. Here too, was a woman who was full of good works, a devoted mother and who traveled here to America where we at Sacramento Friends Church had the privilege of getting to know her. Back in Kenya she not only cared for her own family but also for many AIDs orphans. At the memorial, held at Margaret and Toni’s home, there was a wonderful display of that motherly care provided by the members of ALIA (African Ladies in America) a society of African immigrants who, upon such occasions, provide food, and raise funds to assist with the funeral and travel expenses so heavy for those whose family are at a distance from the deceased. On top of this, they provided a beautiful choir for the memorial whose songs ministered much cheer and comfort to the family and guests. We have heard them also at memorials held at our church for our other Kenyan friends who have lost precious family members.
Ruth’s memorial was in the afternoon and evening of that day but just that morning in our regular service we were privileged to publicly dedicate four lovely children to the Lord and pray for His blessing on their lives.Again, it was another evidence of the uncountable value of mothers who have brought us all into the world.So let us, by all means, honor them on that day (and every day), and remember the mother who first inspired her daughter to help make it a national holiday in this and many other countries around the world. – Jim Healton