Mother’s Day

The surprising origins of Mother’s Day

On Sunday many Australians will spend the day celebrating their mothers and other special women in their lives. Some mums may be given cards, flowers and gifts, while others may enjoy breakfast in bed or a lunch out.

Mother’s Day has long been a part of the Australian calendar, but where did the idea to dedicate the second Sunday in May to honouring motherhood come from?

The modern Australian celebration of Mother’s Day actually grew out of calls for peace and anti-war campaigns following the American Civil War (1861-65). In 1870, American writer and women’s rights activist Julia Ward Howe, best known as the author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, appealed to women to unite and bring peace throughout the world (later known as the Mother’s Day Proclamation). She proposed that a mother’s day for peace be commemorated every year in June.

But the idea of a mother’s day did not gain traction until 1908, when West Virginia woman Anna Marie Jarvis held a church memorial to honour the legacy of her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis.

Ann Jarvis had been a peace activist who nursed wounded soldiers during the Civil War and created mother’s day work clubs to address public health issues. She wanted to continue her mother’s work and pushed to have a day set aside to honour all mothers. In 1914 her campaigning paid off, when US president Woodrow Wilson officially declared the second Sunday in May to be Mother’s Day.

But it was not until 1924, following the losses of World War I, that Mother’s Day was first held in Australia. Sydney woman Janet Heyden started the tradition after becoming concerned for the lonely, forgotten aged mothers at Newington State Hospital where she regularly visited a friend. She successfully campaigned for local schools and businesses to donate gifts to the ladies.

“There were so many mothers who were no longer mothers, so many wives who were now widowed because of WW1, and there were also so many women who never had the prospect of becoming mothers or wives because a whole generation had been wiped out in the trenches of the Western Front,” Professor Waterhouse said. “There was this mood for Mother’s Day, and the American Mother’s Day fitted better than other mother’s days that were celebrated in other countries.”

It was during the 1920s that Mother’s Day became commercialised in the United States, with card companies like Hallmark and florists marketing gifts. Anna Jarvis was outraged and spent the rest of her life campaigning against the commercialisation of Mother’s Day, dying penniless and in a state of dementia in a sanatorium in 1948.

“Mother’s Day was part of a very consumer society which America had become in the 1920s and it was very quickly adopted in Australia as well,” Professor Waterhouse said.

While Mother’s Day initially began to promote peace and support women, over the years it has become an occasion for family reunions in Australia.

“It’s not just about recognising the role of mothers, though that’s still there, but it’s really recognising Mother’s Day as a day in which families can get together,” Professor Waterhouse said. “That’s becoming increasingly important because in the busy world in which we live, families don’t get together as much as they used to.”

And for those wondering about the origins of Father’s Day?

“It was basically made up to balance Mother’s Day,” Professor Waterhouse said.

Write it with love

A survey of 1600 mums by Pilot Pen Australia revealed 68 per cent much prefer a handwritten card or letter than an email, online message or text on Mother’s Day.

“Taking the time to purchase a store bought card and writing a personalised message by hand may be quite a novel idea for many in an age where electronic messaging by email or text reigns, yet it is a great way to show mum how much you care on her special day,” says Sophia Le, handwriting expert and ambassador for Pilot Pen Australia.

Sophia says that just like mindfulness colouring in, handwriting is becoming popular but for many picking up a pen these days, the over-reliance on the keyboard has lead to a loss of handwriting skills and technique.

“So many people tell me they have lost their strength and their letter formation is weak, leaving their handwriting looking scruffy. My message is to keep trying, as practise makes perfect,” she says.

Here are Sophia’s top tips for penning the perfect Mother’s Day card:

1. Choose the right pen for the job – have you ever picked up a pen and the nib just isn’t right for your handwriting style, or the ink flow hinders the way your writing looks on the page? Make sure you pick the right pen to suit you.

2. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake – being out of practice can lead to a higher number of handwriting mistakes which can put many people off before they try. Decide what you are going to write then practise on a piece of paper first. Once you are happy with how it looks then go to your greeting card.

3. Go slow – when I watch people pick up a pen and write down a card or a message, I often see them rushing – almost like getting through a chore. Possibly this is because we are so used to forming words on a keyboard quickly, we expect to write by hand at the same pace. We also live in a busy world where communication has sped up. Handwriting nicely does take time and that is part of its pleasure. Make a cup of tea, sit down, take a big deep breath and make a commitment to taking your time.

4. Express yourself – research shows that when you write by hand, it can be easier to connect with your inner most feelings than when you type. Perhaps because it does take a little bit more time, we’re not just tapping away on a keyboard, but we are choosing to connect with our inner selves.

Mother’s Day is the perfect opportunity to share your feelings with your mum – tell her how much you love her, appreciate her, miss her – whatever your message of love is – she will love it and I am sure, cherish it forever.

Sophia Le is a pen lover and fountain pen collector. She is an active member of online community and podcast, the Nib Section, celebrating beautiful handwriting and fountain pens. For further information, visit

When the ‘tables turned’ for Krystel

Krystel and Karen are sharing their story to support the annual Mother’s Day Research Appeal conducted by
Breast Cancer Trials.

Krystel’s mum Karen has always been her pillar of strength, her confidant and her greatest fan. So when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Krystel says it was a moment when the ‘tables turned’ and she needed to be there for her mum.

“For a lady who was the strongest woman I’ve ever met, seeing her on the lounge after her first chemotherapy was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to face,” says Krystel.

“She was so physically unwell that it broke down not only her strong motherly presence but her entire character. I was upset for her, for my sisters and for my stepfather who had absolutely no idea how to make it better.”

Diagnosed at just 48, Karen had no family history of breast cancer and her diagnosis was a shock for the entire family. Today, following treatment, she is well and enjoying life with her children and grandchildren.

“We know the treatments mum received and benefitted from are thanks to breast cancer clinical trials research,” says Krystel. “Mum and I also know there are many other women, other mums perhaps, who need our help because better treatment options for their type of breast cancer have not yet been discovered.”

Krystel and Karen are sharing their story to support the annual Mother’s Day Research Appeal conducted by Breast Cancer Trials. They’re encouraging people to donate to Breast Cancer Trials as their Mother’s Day gift for their mum.

Supporters can choose a beautiful Mother’s Day card to give their mum which acknowledges their special gift.

“Mum says her family are her life – she loves her children and grandchildren so much and was just glad it was her and not them dealing with this horrible disease,” says Krystel.

Please visit or call 1800 423 444 to make a donation and choose a card in time for Mother’s Day.

Because the gift of life would be the best Mother’s Day gift of all.

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