Sunday, May 10, 2015

Today in History: Mother's Day

Post by Jayne Ptolemy, Manuscripts Curatorial Assistant

On May 24, 1873, Kate Edgerly finally found the time to return her sister's letter. "You want to know how I get along with four children," she wrote, with more than a little exasperation, "I don't get along at all I am half crazy." Mothering four young children took a lot of time, energy, and dedication, as it still does. Some nine months later, following the birth of another daughter, Kate again confided to her sister, "I don't feel very strong yet but expect I shall have to wash this week the baby is real cross she generally cries from three Oclock until morning so I can hardly keep her still." Parenting comes with its fair share of trials, but as we know, it comes with equal measures of magic. In January 1876, Kate commented on her family's Christmas and went on to describe her young daughter Annie. "It would tickle you to hear her try and sing she wants the girls to sing to her and then she will learn the song and she can't say all of the words plain nor sing the tune but will say some times a whole verse and go around saying it over." In the spirit of Mother's Day, these glimpses from the Martha Barker Papers remind us of the demands and delights mothers have experienced throughout the years.

The collections at the William L. Clements Library also include children's perspectives on their mothers. Take, for example, this marginalia found in our 1816 edition of My Mother. A Poem.

From My Mother. A Poem. By A Lady (Philadelphia: William Charles, 1816).
Above a sentimental stanza, a child was compelled to write, "MY MOTHER," perhaps reiterating the connection they felt to this particular passage. The illustration's coloring also belies a child's touch, making this small volume an especially poignant one.

Some of our collections speak directly to Mother's Day, including the Thomas Downs Papers. On May 7, 1938, Jane Augusta Reifel wrote a letter to her mother, Florence Downs, commemorating the day. "And so mother dear- you are like a great big guiding light- whose warm rays and penetrating beams will ever spread into the lives of those two girls you have given so much for… my heart is filled with a great, deep love- and thankfulness- So mother's day is really every day- and I hope that if some day someone would say 'Jane's like her mother--', I would be very happy."
An undated, hand-made Mother's Day card from Jane Augusta Reifel in the Thomas Downs Papers.
These children's love for their mothers hasn't faded despite the years, and the collections here at the Clements Library document the powerful and compelling relationships between mothers and their offspring. May that help all the mothers out there persevere, even as they are driven "half crazy" in the present by the children in their care.

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