Monday, May 15, 2017

A Day by Women, for Women


Image result for ann reeves jarvisYesterday was Mother’s Day, and while reading through the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer I discovered something that as a daughter, mother and physician I never knew before:  rather than being a “Hallmark holiday”, Mother’s Day actually has its roots in a social reform and political action movement.  I learned that in 1858 social activist Ann Reeves Jarvis organized “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” in response to high maternal and infant mortality rates in the US.  The coalition raised money to buy medicines and hire mothers’ helpers for those suffering from tuberculosis,  inspect food and milk for contamination, and visit homes to teach mothers how to improve sanitary conditions.  
The Maternalist campaign (as it was subsequently dubbed) grew to over 10 million American women and became a formidable Washington lobby.  The funding secured for state-level programs on maternal and infant hygiene, prenatal health clinics, and visiting nurses for pregnant and new mothers contributed to a 10% decline in the overall infant mortality rate.  
Ann’s daughter Anna subsequently started a campaign to create a day commemorating the efforts and service of mothers like her own.  In 1908, the first official Mother’s Day was celebrated by 15,000 people in Grafton and Philadelphia.  A few years later in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a resolution designating the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day.  In light of all of the sociopolitical controversy and challenges facing us today, it’s heartening to know that women are ready to protect and defend the work of the Maternalists that started more than a century ago – and not only on Mother’s Day, but every day.   


 

       Judith Wolf, MD                                       Associate Director, WHEP

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