MARY TOWLES SASSEEN
Promoter of Mother’s Day
By Netta Mullin
Miss Mary Towles Sasseen was born on March 5, 1860 and was reared in Henderson, Kentucky. She was a teacher in our own public schools, labored earnestly to have April 20th, her mother’s natal day, observed in the schools in the manner in which we now celebrate.
Mary also known as Mamie Sasseen was quite tall, had auburn hair and one of the brightest faces, and the wittiest tongue Julia Alves Clore had ever known. One of her chief charms was her happy-go-lucky spirit. Always smiling where the occasion demanded, but very firm and dignified. Quick at repartee, sharp of wit, she was always able to hold her own with the most intelligent. She was noted for that famous smile, and her advice was, “Say what you’d like to say, just so you say it with a smile.”
September 1885, Julia Alves Clore began teaching at Center Street School, where Mary Towles Sassen was the principal of the primary department. Even then she wrote stories and poems for pupils to recite on April 20th, her mother’s birthday, calling it “Mother’s Day Celebration”, inviting the mothers of the pupils to be present at that very time. She was constantly talking and working for this scheme, often expressing the wish that she might live to see it a national observance.
In 1888, John C. Worsham, a practicing attorney since 1905, attended the public schools in Henderson and during said time he was a pupil of Miss Sasseen and he often heard Miss Sasseen speak of the efforts she was making to obtain national recognition of the mothers of this country by the setting aside of a certain day to be observed and celebrated as Mother’s Day, and that the day she was endeavoring to have selected as Mother’s Day was the birthday of her mother, April 20th.
Being unable to find anything suitable, Sasseen published her “Mother’s Day Celebration” pamphlet in 1893. Within this book Sasseen defines Mother’s Day as follows:
Having by experience learned how much one can teach a child regarding the lives and works of the poets, by our system of Author’s Day, it suggested itself to me that by celebrating Mother’s Day once a year, much of the veneration, love and respect due to parents might, by song, verse and story, be inculcated in the next generation.
By a Mother’s Day, I mean a day on which parents shall be invited to the school and a programme presented, the recitations being on the subject of mother, the songs referring to home.
In this pamphlet, Sasseen refers to “Home as the magic circle within which the weary spirit finds refuge; the sacred asylum to which the care-worn heart retreats to find rest. Home! That name touches every fiber of the soul. Nothing but death can break its spell, and dearer than home is the mother who presides over it.”
She further states that “We find that every man and woman, whom the world has called great, whose words have been treasured for their wisdom and goodness, all cherished their memories of mother, of happy, innocent childhood and of home.”
Sasseen felt that her “pamphlet was sent forth in the hope of awakening on the part of the child, a deeper appreciation of her, who is the central figure of the home. That it may strengthen the family bonds, making them more beautiful and tender, that it may breathe a hope of that future, where language is music, thought is light, and love is law.”
Sasseen traveled extensively and addressed various educational meetings over the country in her effort to have Mother’s Day observed in the schools. In 1894 or shortly thereafter, she succeeded in having it celebrated of the Public Schools of Springfield, Ohio.
C. E. Sugg had personal recollections of Miss Sasseen’s advocacy of “Mother’s Day” as far back as 1897 because he was Miss Sasseen’s opposing candidate for the office of County School Superintendent.
May 6, 1899, the Saturday Morning Gleaner ran a campaign advertisement for Mary Towles Sasseen’s candidacy for Superintendent of Public Instruction. The ad ran as follows:
Miss Mary Towles Sasseen, of Henderson, Kentucky, who is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Superintendent of Public Instruction, adds a new feature to State politics this year. Miss Sasseen has made a practical study, in the school systems of New York, Ohio, Indiana and Colorado, all leaders in educational matters. She is the author and originator of Mother’s Day. Within the past five years she has, unaided, secured the adoption of the day in a large number of States, and cities like Boston, Brooklyn and Little Rock have had from 10,000 to 14,000 pupils in line, singing songs of home and reciting poems in honor of mother. The effect on character must be for good and does credit both to the heart and head of the originator.
For many years Sasseen taught in the Center Street School but was forced to give up teaching on the account of ill health in the early 1900s. However, she did not give up her quest for Mother’s Day as she continued to travel extensively and addressed educational societies and other organizations in various parts of the country in her effort to have the observance of Mother’s Day nationally recognized and adopted.
On September 28, 1904 Mary Towles Sasseen married Judge William Marshall Wilson from Pensacola, Florida. Being such a devoted teacher and daughter, a cruel twist of fate occurred on April 18, 1906, when Sasseen died in childbirth.
A year later in 1907 was when Miss Anna Jarvis invited a friend to spend the second Sunday in May with her to commemorate the anniversary of her mother’s death. On that occasion Jarvis announced her plan for the national observance of Mother’s Day.
I commend Jarvis for observing the day with fitting memorial services in churches and homes in Philadelphia. For writing thousands of letters to prominent ministers, teachers, business and professional men about the plan. But the pioneer in this national observance of motherhood was not Miss Jarvis, but a Kentucky schoolteacher who laid the groundwork for the idea long before Miss Jarvis did in 1907.
Please see our website at: https://www.rootsweb.com/~kyhende2/Sasseen.htm for further documentation about Mary Towles Sasseen Wilson.
And as far as Julia Ward Howe, being considered as an advocate for a national observation of Mother’s Day is clearly denied by her own writing. In her “Reminiscences” Howe states that she was in great opposition to Louis Napoleon from the period of the infamous act of treachery and violence, which made him emperor. She wondered, “Why do not mothers of mankind interfere in these matters, to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone bear and know the cost?” She felt if she sent an appeal to womanhood throughout the world that the waste of human life in war could be prevented. Howe’s little document referred to as “Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation” was not a proclamation about motherhood or her own mother in the sense that Mother’s Day is expressed today but rather it was an anti-war movement. I see this woman dressed in black holding up a sign that reads, “Give peace a chance” as we saw during the Vietnam War.