Mother’s Day, a holiday devoted to honoring mothers, has its American origins in the years following the Civil War. To aid national healing in the wake of unprecedented personal loss, many women’s groups wanted to create a day focusing on peace and motherhood.
In 1914, a national campaign culminated in a federal proclamation officially designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. To mark this now-official holiday, many people began writing letters to their mothers. Soon, giving gifts of flowers and sending greeting cards became popular.
These examples of Mother’s Day greeting cards from The Henry Ford’s collection provide a charming glimpse into these celebrations over the past century.
Making handmade cards is a perennial favorite activity of children, and a Mother’s Day card made by a son or daughter remains a special gift. A child whose parents were first generation Polish-Americans created this card in 1942. A first grader at a Polish Catholic school in South Bend, Indiana, he decorated his card with a crayon drawing and the inscription “Droga Mamo.” He also used stickers and trimmed the edges in a scalloped pattern with a red ribbon holding the pages together. The inside pages contain a printed poem in Polish.
This 1960 card in many ways represents the typical sentiments we associate with Mother’s Day - gratitude for our mother’s loving care that we’ve received. The card’s image of a silver basket with flowers recognizes that flowers are a traditional gift for this holiday.
Husbands used cards like this one to honor their wives on Mother’s Day. They could also use it when their children were too young to give their mother a special card. The delicate visual image of the mother and the card shaped like a fan are evocative of the early to mid-1920s popular style in America.
This card for “My Other Mother” was sent in 1921 to Susana C. Cole, a 71-year-old widow who was living in Akron, Ohio, with her only daughter and son-in-law. Who was the Salt Lake City, Utah, sender of this card, then? Perhaps it was her son-in-law on a business trip or another relative - or even a former student, since Susana was a retired schoolteacher.
Other mysterious elements from this same correspondence are the singed edges of both the card and envelope - evidence that this early airmail letter encountered a dramatic fate on the way to its recipient: The U.S. Post Office message stamped on the envelope states that the letter was recovered from an airplane crash in Rock Springs, Wyoming.
This Mother’s Day card from about 1980 is anything but traditional - it’s printed on a brown paper bag! Informal and humorous, its modern theme may reflect its likely “Gen-X” givers - or their mother’s up-to-date attitude. The bright pink color of the text reflects the vivid colors popular in the late 20th century.
Have you ever given or received a memorable Mother's Day card? Tell us about it in the comments below or on our Facebook page.
Cynthia R. Miller is former Curator of Photographs and Prints at The Henry Ford.