Kentuckian Mary Towles Sasseen thought to organize a Mother’s Day celebration before anyone else in the land.
Mother’s Day was recognized as a holiday in West Virginia in 1910, and became a national holiday in 1914, primarily through the efforts of Anna Jarvis of Grafton, West Virginia. Jarvis is now widely credited as the founder of Mother’s Day.
In the nineteenth century, however, there were several attempts to establish a holiday honoring motherhood. Most of these celebrations were on a local level, or with political motives: one notable mother’s holiday was celebrated in the cause of peace, and another was created to discourage drinking. The first Mother’s Day celebration just for Mom — and the first major effort to create a national holiday in that spirit — happened right here in the fine Commonwealth of Kentucky.
The arbiter of this holiday, Miss Mary Towles Sasseen, was a tall, intelligent woman with auburn hair and a deep love for her mama. Sasseen, a schoolteacher in Henderson, Kentucky, held a Mother’s Day celebration on April 20, 1887, which was her mother’s birthday. As a teacher, Sasseen envisioned that Mother’s Day would be celebrated primarily by children in schools. Since her first celebration, however, the holiday has gradually increased in popularity, drawing in the entire family.
In 1893, Sasseen published a 32-page pamphlet entitled Mother’s Day Celebration, which laid out her vision for the holiday, as she wrote, “…in the hope of awakening on the part of the child, a deeper appreciation of her, who is the central figure of the home. That it may strengthen the family bonds, making them more beautiful and tender, that it may breathe a hope of that future, where language is music, thought is light, and love is law.”
And so began the epic story of the holiday we now celebrate throughout the Commonwealth and beyond.
Sasseen was determined to see the holiday gain popularity across the whole of the United States. At her own expense, she traveled across the country to promote the establishment of a Mother’s Day celebration, usually meeting with school boards and addressing educational conferences. Her efforts were successful in Springfield, Ohio and elsewhere, and she surely influenced the same generation of children that were running the country by the time Anna Jarvis began her own Mother’s Day campaign.
In 1904, Mary Towles Sasseen married Judge William Marshall Wilson and moved to Florida. Even after she retired from teaching due to poor health, Sasseen continued to campaign for Mother’s Day. She died in childbirth in 1908, two days shy of her beloved mother’s birthday, and just after Anna Jarvis started stumping for the establishment of the holiday.
This Mother’s Day, right after brunch, take a moment to remember the women who brought us Mother’s Day, and make sure you remember who brought it first: a Kick Ass Kentuckian. —Hap Houlihan
Images Courtesy of Kyle Arnett via Tour Henderson Kentucky