Mother’s Day: A history of appreciation

Lawyer and poet William Ross Wallace published his poem, “What rules the world” in 1865 praising motherhood as a force for changing the world for the better. 

Blessing on the hand of woman!
Angels guard her strength and grace;
In the cottage, palace, hovel!
O, no matter where the place!...
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.

Appreciation of mothers is not new; dedication of a day to them dates back to ancient Greek and Roman traditions. In 16th-century England, mothers were offered cakes. In the United States in 1905, Anna Jarvis, a schoolteacher, held a Mother’s Day to celebrate the labor and activism of mothers. In Canada, unofficial celebrations go back to 1907. In 1915, Mother’s Day became an official holiday on the second Sunday of the month of May. 

There are about 2 billion mothers in the world and statistically 4.3 babies are born each second. The highest fertility rate is in Niger, with 7.5 children born per woman. The lowest ranges are found in China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, where an average of 1.2 children are born per women. Distressingly, each year more than half a million women in the Global South die in childbirth. 

Mothers all over the world go to great length to make sure that their children get an education, and taking time out to care for children slows down women’s career progression. The result is like a motherhood penalty, with a lifetime of income inequality between men and women. Women across cultures and mothers specifically oversee managing the household. Maintaining food supplies and preparing and serving food is the mother’s job in many societies. 

The positives of motherhood appear to outweigh the negatives. On a personal level, “while motherhood proves elusive or daunting to some, to most women, its rewards go to the core of what it means to be real and alive, to be human, and to experience life in abundance.”[1] On an international scale, “The timeless importance of mothers is constant in changing the world facing multiple challenges,” said the Secretary General of the United Nations in 2009,[2] reflecting the poet Wallace’s vision of the “hand that rocks the cradle” changing the world. The mother-child relationship is essential for the healthy development of children. It may take up to 20 years to raise a child.

Does the child become a person of character and integrity or selfishness and indifference? In a sense, every child that a mother raises changes the world. 

As to the future, with the introduction of safe and reliable contraception in the 1960s, women became able to have full control over their reproduction. Motherhood became an issue of personal preferences—voluntary childlessness, spacing birth order of children, and delay of childbearing. But the deep-rooted wish to have a child, to breastfeed, to care, to nurture, to be a mother is not likely to change.

Happy Mother’s Day! Thank you, Mom!
—George Szasz, CM, MD

1.    Norden RK. What makes motherhood worthwhile. Institute for Family Studies. 10 May 2020. Accessed 21 April 2023.
2.    United Nations. ‘“Timeless importance of mothers”’ one constant in changing world facing multiple challenges, says secretary-general in message on day of families. 6 May 2009. Accessed 21 April 2023.

Suggested reading
Beets G, Schippers J, te Velde ER, editors. The future of motherhood in Western societies. Springer Dordrecht;. 2011.

Homeschool mom of 8. The 10 most important qualities of a good mother. Accessed 21 April 2023.

This post has not been peer reviewed by the BCMJ Editorial Board.

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