Honoring American moms

Way Back When

Tributes: A spinster helped persuade Congress to designate a day for mothers, and Baltimore established a garden in Lake Clifton.

May 13, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Since 1914, when Congress approved a joint resolution signed by President Woodrow Wilson, the second Sunday in May has been set aside to recognize "the service rendered the United States by the American mother who is the greatest source of the country's strength and inspiration."

Oddly enough, the idea for Mother's Day originated not with a mother but rather with a spinster.

Anna M. Jarvis, who had no children of her own and was devoted to her Philadelphia mother, conceived the idea and began a letter-writing campaign in 1905 to promote the idea of a day honoring mothers.

She was successful. In 1910, the governor of Washington state proclaimed May 8 as Mother's Day, and four years later, the joint Congressional resolution passed.

Jarvis, who later complained about the rampant commercialization of Mother's Day, said, "Everyone else has made money out of this, but I never made a cent."

Jarvis spent most of her life in a "gloomy ramshackle house surrounded by Victorian bric-a-brac," according to the Evening Sun, and before her 1948 death in a sanitarium, managed to get off one more salvo against the decline of American Motherhood.

"Mothers pictured as stay-at-homes who knit or bustle about a kitchen, dreaming of offspring, are actually waiting for candy, necklaces, autos and visits to nightclubs as a result of these rackets," she said.

Baltimore's unique and lasting tribute to its mothers, in Clifton Park, was created on the site of an old gravel quarry at the intersection of Harford Road and Erdman Avenue, and dedicated in 1926.

A stone pavilion on a slight rise of land overlooks carefully tended beds of larkspur, mignonette, dahlias and tuberoses.

Its initial planting required more than 15,000 plants.

"It will be a beautiful, secluded spot for young mothers and for aged mothers who wish to spend their quiet hours over needles in meditation," said William I. Norris, president of the park board, who conceived the idea of the garden.

There was a pergola in the garden and a quaint stone Japanese bridge that spanned a lily pond stocked with goldfish.

"It is a vivid, perfumed place. No flower from the gardens of the mothers and grandmothers of the Twentieth Century flapper is missing from the garden at Clifton Park," said newspaper accounts.

"The garden formerly was an old quarry. Now it is a profusion of bloom," the Evening Sun observed.

"In addition to a great variety of of old-fashioned flowers, there is promise of others, for the banks of the pool are planted with iris and rambling roses will be trained over the pergola and the slopes of the garden. The flagstone path is lighted with quaint lanterns hanging from rustic poles," the newspaper reported.

Gerald Johnson, an Evening Sun editorial writer, opined: "This old fashioned garden is not to be understood by lads who never tied a bunch of ribbons on a buggy whip not the drugstore cowboys, surely; not the Shebas with prominent knees.

"Real appreciation of the garden is reserved for those of us who can at least remember the Maine -- perhaps to those who can remember the wedding of Frances Folsom." (Frances Folsom was the young bride of President Grover Cleveland in 1886.)

However, by the 1980s, the once-elegant garden had fallen on hard times.

Through the efforts of then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer, the garden was restored with help from the Board of Recreation and Parks, the Mayfield Improvement Association and the Baltimore Recreation and Parks Foundation.

On May 13, 1984, he unveiled a plaque to the memory of Tululu I. Schaefer, his mother, and "all the mothers of Baltimore."

"The mayor said he remembered his mother as the heart of his home, someone who was always there when he got home from school, who did a lot of cooking so that the family almost never went out to a restaurant. She was, he said, `a good Christian woman,' " reported The Sun.

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