To All the Moms in America: Thanks

Try this quick quiz:

Who invented Mother’s Day?

Why is Mother’s Day the second Sunday of May?

Is Mother’s Day changing?

Four hundred years ago, the English began a holiday they termed “Mothering Sunday.” Taking place on the fourth Sunday of Lent, Mothering Sunday honored the mothers of England and “Mother Church.” It was celebrated with a special “Mothering Cake,” and employees, including servants who typically worked on Sundays, were given the day off to spend time with their mothers.

Mother’s Day in the United States began after a holiday honoring mothers was suggested in 1872 by the author of the lyrics to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Julia Ward Howe. Howe began annual celebrations of the holiday in Boston each year, but the idea did not take root nationally until Philadelphian Ann Jarvis started a national Mother’s Day campaign in 1907. She convinced her mother’s church in Grafton, West Virginia to start honoring mothers on the second Sunday of May – the anniversary of her mother’s death.

From these beginnings, seven years later, President Woodrow Wilson officially proclaimed the second Sunday of May to be Mother’s Day, and it has been so proclaimed every year since.1

Has Mother’s Day changed much? Not really. It is still celebrated with visits to Mom, flowers, greeting cards and presents. This year, for instance, Americans will send 150 million Mother’s Day cards.2

But one new institution that is having an impact on the holiday is the Internet, where

sending virtual greeting cards and gifts purchased online is catching on. And, in an important development for Moms, Internet speeds will soon be hundreds of times faster (the recently-announced merger of AT&T and the cable company TCI, for example, will soon give families faster Internet access via TV cable). This will permit people to conveniently include home videos of important family events – births, graduations, a grandchild’s birthday party – within Internet greeting cards and ordinary e-mails.

A lot of Moms will be getting Mother’s Day presents purchased via the Internet. A September 1998 study found that 41% of men and 32% of women are likely to shop online.3 The National Retail Federation says that 26% of all retailers had a web site in 1998, up from 20% in 1997 and 8% in 1996.4 The Barnes and Noble online bookstore’s traffic quadrupled between early summer 1998 and December 1998, while traffic on the bookstore’s site the day after Thanksgiving 1998 was four times what it was the same day in 1997.5 By 2005, Internet commerce is expected to reach 6% of U.S. GDP.6

One way in which the Internet may be especially rewarding to Moms is in the area of discount travel. Numerous web sites are popping up that allow travelers to find cut-rate air tickets so they can visit Mom. Web sites like and, established in 1997 and 1998 respectively, allow travelers to investigate good bargains in airfares, and are especially valuable for folks who can be a bit flexible about the time and date of departures.

Several major airlines also advertise bargains on their web sites, and send regular e-mails to the public advertising last-minute specials.

But, ironically enough, the Internet’s real value to Moms might have nothing to do with Mother’s Day at all. Most Moms agree: one thing they need more of is time. The Internet helps here, letting busy Moms buy Aunt Ethel a birthday present online without having to pack junior into a stroller and taking a time-consuming trip to a mall.

Of course, the true meaning of Mother’s Day hasn’t changed since it was first proclaimed in the United States, or when it was celebrated in Britain by giving the servants the day off, or even back in Ancient Greece, where it was inspired by the goddess Rhea – mother of the gods.7

The true meaning of Mother’s Day has nothing to do with transient inventions like the Internet, and everything to do with love and sacrifice. Moms love their children and make sacrifices for them in thousands of ways. It begins with morning sickness and goes through labor, diapers, 3 am feedings, first steps, bath time, the first day of school, homework, room cleaning, learning to drive, teen trauma, dating, graduation and moving out of the family home, with perhaps 20,000 home-cooked meals and 2,800 loads of laundry along the way. For honoring these sacrifices, and many more, one day a year is not enough.

To all the Moms in America, we simply say: Thanks.


Amy Ridenour is president of The National Center for Public Policy Research. Comments may be sent to [email protected].



Footnotes1 “Giving Mother Her Due,” Jerusalem Post, 1999, downloaded May 2, 1999 from

2 “CGA Industry Fact Sheet,” Greeting Card Association of America web site, downloaded May 3, 1999,

3 Fred Barbash, “Online Shopping: It’s a Guy Thing,” Washington Post, May 1, 1999, p. E1.

4 Susan Holstein, Gregory Thomas and Fred Vogelstein, “Click ‘Til You Drop,” U.S. News and World Report, December 7, 1998, p. 45.

5 Mark Liebovich and Leslie Walker, “Shift to Online Shopping Surpasses Expectations,” Washington Post, December 17, 1998, p. B1.

6 James P. Lucier, Jr., “Danger in Cyberspace: Will Traditional Postal Monopolies Usurp E-Commerce Functions?,” Speech at “Mail @ the Millennium,” a Cato Institute conference, Washington, D.C., December 2, 1998.

7 “Giving Mother Her Due,” Jerusalem Post, 1999, downloaded May 2, 1999 from

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