100 Years Ago: A World War I Mother’s Day

Lansing State Journal
newspaper of 1917 showing
mothers, carnations and the
founder  of Mother’s Day.

One hundred years ago Mother’s Day was celebrated on May 12, 1918 in New Hampshire. Two days before the Portsmouth Herald newspaper announced: “Sunday is Mother’s Day. Carnations Will Be Worn in Honor or Memory of Her That Day.” The story goes on to say that the tradition is to wear a carnation–a colored one if your mother was living and a white one if she “has passed from this life.”

Preachers had warmed up their presentation skills to offer special recognition to mothers from the pulpit. The article also adds that “The observance of the day calls for loving remembrance of your mother for her memory through some distinct act of kindness, visit, tribute or letter. Love on that day as your mother would have you live it.” Sage words for a world where death was so often the topic of late. The Court Street Christian Church of Portsmouth planned to visit “shut-ins” of the parish after the evening service.

Mother’s Day Puzzle from the
Burlington Free Press, 1918.

The newspaper was not completely advertising free. There was a singular message for readers of the newspaper to give their mother a box of chocolates from the local Paras Brothers, “and she will appreciate them.”

Of course war propaganda managed to find its way into the day.  The Nashua Telegraph of 5 May 1918 included a editorial stating “This year the day particularly appeals to us, for thousands upon thousands of mothers have given sons to swell the ranks of those who are fighting in France in the cause of civilization and for the honor of home and country, therefore, those of us whose family circles have not yet been called upon to supply a son for the cause, in paying homage to our living mothers should feel that we are honoring motherhood–the true motherhood that makes for pure home lives, good citizenship, and good government.

From 1918 Burlington
Free Press newspaper.

The column “From the Front” mentioned that one of the local boys, Ray Caswell, had written to his mother and asked her to “call upon the Salvation Army captain and ask him to make known in the people of Portsmouth what the Salvation Army is doing for him and other local boys at the front. He writes: ‘When I am feeling discouraged or a little homesick for mother, I go to the Salvation Army hut and the lady in charge, Mrs. Hammond of New York, and she comforts and cheers me up and I go away feeling good. She is like a real mother to me.’ Three Salvation Army women were cited for bravery last week for sticking to the front line trenches serving out coffee and doughnuts and giving words of cheer and comfort to the boys while the Germans were bombarding that particular front.


[Editor’s Note: this story is part of an on-going series about heroic New Hampshire men and women of World War I.  Look here for the entire listing].

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6 Responses to 100 Years Ago: A World War I Mother’s Day

  1. Amy says:

    I was wondering as I read this whether Mother’s Day was as commercialized back then. Was a carnation and perhaps a box of candy sufficient? Or were there also cheesy cards, corny gifts, and overpriced meals at crowded restaurants?

    • Janice Brown says:

      Amy, once again thank you for taking the time to read my blog articles. 100 years ago many now highly commercialized events were spent more simply. There were fewer gifts given and more religious services in connection with them — Mother’s Day, Christmas, Easter, even the 4th of July. Those were not days to focus on shopping or discounted purchases but rather there was a stronger focus on the meaning of the day. As our society becomes more consumer and profit focused, so those days have evolved into “big income” days for those selling related products and services. As for 100 years ago, whoever was selling carnations did very well. The newspapers did have some advertising for chocolates. I only checked “local New Hampshire” newspapers, but I’m sure that the New York Times probably had more advertising, so also depended on where you lived. I realize this is a convoluted answer.

      • Amy says:

        I’d say, “Oh, for the good old days,” but we know those days were not so good for many people. Giving a mother a carnation or even candy didn’t make up for all the discrimination women faced. In 1918 they still couldn’t even vote! But I won’t get rolling on a rant now!

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