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Reflections From Faith and History

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle -by Jeff Olson

This coming Sunday we have an opportunity to honor a person who gave each of us the greatest gift of all – life. Mother’s Day has a long history in America, going all the way back to 1872 when Julia Ward Howe made the first known suggestion for a ‘Mother’s Day for Peace.’ She recommended that people observe a Mother’s Day on June 2 and for several years she led an annual Mother’s Day meeting in Boston. In 1887 a Kentucky schoolteacher, Mary Towles Sasseen, started conducting Mother’s Day celebrations. In 1904 Frank Herring of South Bend, IN started a campaign for the observance of Mother’s Day. In 1907, Anna Jarvis (1864-1948) of Grafton, WV began a campaign for a nationwide observance of Mother’s Day, inspired by her own mother, Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis (1832-1905). Ann Jarvis dedicated much of her life in God’s service and founded Mother’s Day Work Clubs in five cities to improve sanitary and health conditions. She also fed and clothed and treated wounds of Union and Confederate Civil War soldiers.

Anna selected the 2nd Sunday in May (beginning in 1908) and introduced the custom of wearing a carnation, her mother’s favorite flower. Anna Jarvis devoted herself full time to the creation of a national Mother’s Day, endlessly petitioning state governments, business leaders, women’s groups, churches and other institutions and organizations. Eventually, her progress towards this goal accelerated as many states would soon institute Mother’s Day observances. In 1912, West Virginia became the first state to officially recognize Mother’s Day.

One hundred five years ago this week, May 8, 1914, Congress passed a joint resolution designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. Upon his signature, President Woodrow Wilson issued the first Mother’s Day presidential proclamation, calling for “a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.” In 1972, the International Mother’s Day Shrine was established in Grafton, WV, dedicated to the spirit and preservation of motherhood and the institution of Mother’s Day as championed through the lives of Anna Jarvis and her mother.

As important as is the history and national observance of Mother’s Day, even more important is what this should mean to each of us on a personal level – not only on this day but every day of every year. The Holy Scriptures command and admonish us to honor our father and mother (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:2). I am eternally grateful to my mother Rubie Lea Franks Olson, my mother-in-law Frances Mae Fritz Gauthier, and to my wife Denise. To this day, their lives testify that a mother’s love is second only to God’s in its depth, breadth, truth, selflessness and consequence.

I will close with a stanza from a well-known poem by William Ross Wallace (1819-1881). “Woman, how divine your mission, Here upon our natal sod; Keep—oh, keep the young heart open always to the breath of God! All true trophies of the ages Are from mother-love impearled, For the hand that rocks the cradle Is the hand that rules the world.”

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