Wednesday, 16 May 2018 05:05

Mother’s Day vs. Mothers’ Day:  Yes, Mom, You Are Correct … But You’re Wrong 

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Anna Jarvis, Founder of Mother's/Mothers' Day Anna Jarvis, Founder of Mother's/Mothers' Day Image from Pixabay Stock Photos

HAMLET - This past Sunday was the second Sunday of May and, as such, was celebrated as a time to revere our mothers. 

We are supposed to pay homage to mothers for all that they have done for us, not the least of which is providing us with life to begin with. 

But which spelling is the correct one?  Is it “mother’s” as a singular possessive, or “mothers’” with a plural denotation? 

The origin of the “holiday” itself accounts for the official, and seemingly accepted, spelling as a singular entity. 

Anna Jarvis of Grafton, West Virginia, is credited with having originated the celebration of our mothers.  She held a memorial service at St. Andrew’s Methodist Church at the time of the death of her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, in 1905. 

A former peace activist who had cared for wounded soldiers (on both sides) during the Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis had herself created “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” to address public health issues.  Her daughter in turn wanted to continue her mother’s work and also establish a day to honor all mothers as a way of acknowledging that a mother “is the person who has done more for you than anyone else in the world.” 

But it was a struggle to make the holiday official.  The U.S. Congress initially rejected the idea, jokingly (and illogically) contending that it would then become necessary to recognize mothers-in-law in a similar manner. 

Anna Jarvis was determined, however, and continued her efforts until, by 1911, all states at least recognized Mother’s Day in some form, with some of them decreeing it to be an official holiday.  Jarvis went so far as to trademark the phrases “Mother’s Day” and “Second Sunday in May” in 1912, and created the Mother’s Day International Association. By 1914, President Woodrow Wilson had declared the second Sunday in May to be a national holiday honoring mothers. 

As often occurs in our capitalistic society, commercialization of the holiday soon overshadowed its true meaning; Jarvis resented the focus on profit as opposed to the true sentimental aspect of the day that she had envisioned.  Jarvis’ position was that people should intrinsically appreciate and honor their mothers through handwritten letters expressing their heartfelt love and gratitude instead of buying gifts and pre-made cards from private companies. 

By the early 1920’s, Jarvis herself began to actively campaign AGAINST Mother’s Day, or at least the commercialized aspects of the occasion, to the point of organizing wholesale boycotts of Mother’s Day and anything that remotely smacked of profiteering in conjunction with the holiday.  She protested at a candy makers’ convention in Philadelphia in 1923 and again at a meeting of American War Mothers in 1925 - Jarvis deemed the group’s selling of carnations as blasphemous and was even arrested for disturbing the peace. 

But another point of contention of the second Sunday in May is the “correct” spelling of the name of the holiday itself.  Yes, Jarvis specifically contended that it should be a singular possessive “for each family to honor its own mother” and not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers of the world.  Subsequently, it was this singular spelling that was officially condoned by the U.S. Congress in relevant bills, was adopted by President Wilson in his original proclamation of the holiday, and has since been used by presidents in any related writings. 

But it is simply wrong.  While a few calendar manufacturers and some greeting card companies have now acknowledged acceptance of the pertinent reasoning and do indeed print the plural possessive version “Mothers’ Day,” most do not.  Thus, the fallacy continues to self-perpetuate. 

The logical argument remains.  Regardless of one’s individualistic perspective, the day itself is not limited to the recognition of any one mother.  It is a day that is shared in both the figurative and literal sense amongst ALL mothers everywhere.  Yes, any one individual may focus entirely upon his/her own mother to the exclusion of all other mothers, and thus argue in favor of a singular possessive spelling of the occasion, but the holiday itself is, almost by default, designed to accommodate the aggregate show of respect and honor for ALL mothers EVERYWHERE.  Ipso facto, the term must be acknowledged as plural in form and meaning, i.e., Mothers’ Day. 

So, no disrespect to Anna Jarvis, the federal government, Hallmark Cards, etc., but, unless there is just ONE mother of all mothers that we are recognizing on the second Sunday in May, they are in technical violation of the rules of modern English by misspelling “Mothers’ Day.”

Last modified on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 19:15