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Mother's Day Gem

ONU alumnus Harry C. Howard gave the first
Mother's Day sermon in 1908.

Mother’s Day is a wonderful holiday that celebrates our love for the special women in our lives. This holiday’s history was created thanks to a mix of war, love, women’s suffrage and surprisingly, Ohio Northern University.

This Sunday, remember your mothers and thank Harry C. Howard, B.S., 1901, for preaching the first Mother’s Day sermon.

The history of Mother’s Day is a story filled with several key players. In 1865, Anna Reeves Jarvis organized a “Mother’s Friendship Day” to help families recover from the Civil War. Julia Ward Howe, who wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” was the first to declare the creation of “Mother’s Day” with her “Mother’s Day Proclamation” of 1870 as a rally for peace and women’s suffrage.

Finally, Jarvis’s daughter, Anna M. Jarvis, campaigned for a national holiday in honor of her mother in 1908. That campaign started with a small sermon given in memory of Anna’s mother, who had passed away three years prior. Howard gave the sermon on May 10, 1908 at Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, W. Va., where he was pastor and where Anna Reeves Jarvis taught Sunday school for 20 years.

The Grafton service was planned and prepared by Jarvis. She sent a telegram to Howard, which explained her purpose for celebrating motherhood. She also sent more than 400 carnations to the church to be given to the women who attended the sermon.

Jarvis advised Howard in the telegram that Mother’s Day was intended to "... revive the dormant filial love and gratitude we owe to those who gave us birth. To be a home tie for the absent. To obliterate family estrangement. To create a bond of brotherhood through the wearing of a floral badge. To make us better children by getting us closer to the hearts of our good mothers. To brighten the lives of good mothers. To have them know we appreciate them, though we do not show it as often as we ought ... Mothers Day is to remind us of our duty before it is too late."

Mother's Day was declared an official holiday by West Virginia in 1910 and became a national holiday four years later.  Howard’s church is now the International Mother’s Day Shrine and has become a national historic landmark.

Many ONU alumni have moved on to enjoy great accomplishments, and now Harry C. Howard can be remembered by the University as the “father” of Mother’s Day. 

Special thanks to Laurie Wurth-Pressel for rediscovering this fun piece of ONU history. A writer for ONU’s Alumni Journal, she saw Howard's story in a small blurb in the April 1940 edition.

—Kate DeAngelis
Junior, Professional Writing
Norton, Ohio