Good on you, Mum!

Kākāpō mum Alice with her chick (click for image credit)

Kākāpō mum Alice with her chick (click for image credit)

We’re bombarded for weeks leading up to the second Sunday in May with reminders that we need to go out and spend money on specially branded giftware and greeting cards to honour our mothers. My Presbyterian family considered this a purely commercial and irreligious festivity and paid it no attention.

Or is that quite true?

There’s no doubt that we were aware of the day, and perhaps we took Mum a cup of tea in bed. Most of us do honour our mothers and their gift to us of life and its consequences. But does Mother’s Day  have any special significance in the New Zealand context?

Te Ara staff have done some digging. Thanks to Marguerite Hill for the Papers Past research and to Caren Wilton and Janine Faulknor for the Te Ara links.

According to Wikipedia, Mother’s Day began in the US in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother, who had died in 1905. Jarvis had been campaigning for a holiday to be created to recognise mothers. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Mother’s Day a national holiday a century ago, in 1914.
(Mothering Sunday, on the other hand, is very very old and held on the fourth Sunday of Lent.) Apparently Jarvis was unhappy about the commercialisation. She wanted things to be more altruistic and meaningful. Oh well.

It was reported in New Zealand that white flowers were emblematic of Mother’s Day, and children were encouraged to wear them as a token. The earliest reference to the celebration of the day in New Zealand is in the Otago Daily Times in 1908. In 1909 the American holiday was explained to New Zealanders. It seems that the idea of marking the day in New Zealand came about in 1910 and that the YMCA and Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) were big supporters.

The Wairarapa Daily News wrote about Mother’s Day at the YMCA in 1917:

The general idea of Mother’s Day is a world-wide emphasis of the love and reverence men, women and children owe to a good mother. The special object is to honour and uplift motherhood and to give comfort and happiness to “the best mother that ever lived—your mother”. How the members of the Y.M.C.A. are asked to observe Mother’s Day— By a loving remembrance of mother (or her memory), through some distinct act of kindness, some tribute - or a letter. By living the day as your mother would have you live it. By having her as your guest of honour. By going back home and giving her pleasure. By writing (if away from home) a loving letter of praise and gratitude. By wearing a white flower in the buttonhole. By attending the Mother’s Day tea. at 5 o’clock on Sunday, and bringing “mother” as guest.

We also found an account of a Mother’s Day rally in 1934, and in 1944 it was reported that troops would remember Mother’s Day.

Here are some mother-themed links from Te Ara as our tribute to Mother’s Day:

League of Mothers display, early 1960s

Māori woman breastfeeding, 1840s

Jacqueline Fahey, ‘Mother and daughter quarrelling’

Plunket mums painting the Strathmore rooms, just down the road from Caren

Working mothers

Lady Glasgow sets up a Mothers’ Union, 1893

Mothers’ Union procession, 1930s

Mothers and babies in prison

Māori nurse with mum and twins

Lesbian mums and son

Babies born to unmarried mums and likely to be adopted out

Caren’s favourite mum pic ever, kākāpō mum Alice with her chick – awwwwwwwwww.

Mother juggling jobs

Mothercraft class!

Mother working on holiday

Good on you, Mums of New Zealand. You’re a diverse and hard-working lot! Enjoy that cup of tea in bed.

4 comments have been added so far

  1. Comment made by Peter Clayworth || May 9th, 2014

    My experience of Mother’s Day (as a child of the 1960s and ‘70s) appears to have been somewhat similar to Ross’. We did mark Mother’s Day but I don’t remember ever buying anything for Mum, just the cup of tea or breakfast in bed. While the various paperspast references in this article show that the absent children of the 1900s also were encouraged to send cards and presents, I suspect the current emphasis on this is in part the result of a more commercialised society. It may also be a product of the fact that it is even more common these days for people to live in a different locality from their parents. Therefore sending a card (and ringing up Mum on Mother’s Day) have become more part of the day. I know that it was only once I lived away from home that I started giving my Mum a card on the day.
    Hoorah for Mums!

  2. Comment made by Jock Phillips || May 12th, 2014

    It is also worth noting in the context of the upcoming anniversary of the Great War that 90% of the letters sent home by soldiers from the front were addressed to ‘Dear Mother’, and not to ‘Dear Mother and Father’. I suspect that 99% of the letters back were also written by mother. In lots of senses New Zealand men were ‘mummy’s boys’.

  3. Comment made by Mark Derby || May 12th, 2014

    According to Wikipedia itself, 30 years before the first Mother’s Day in the US a remarkable woman named Julia Ward Howe first proposed this day so that women could remember, and work to avoid, the carnage inflicted in the American Civil War. She was an active abolitionist who wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” to the tune of “John Brown’s Body”, and a lifelong campaigner for women’s rights. Her original Mother’s Day proclamation said, in part:

    Arise, then, women of this day!… Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience… In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

    Julia Howe’s appeal was unsuccessful, and the idea of a Mother’s Day disappeared for several decades. When it was eventually instituted, its original aim had been diluted significantly.

  4. Comment made by Kristy || May 12th, 2014

    I personally love this image:

    http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/artwork/41095/a-few-moments-at-the-piano-late-19th-century

    It still feels very relevant today!

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