Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » And They Called it Mother’s Day

And They Called it Mother’s Day

By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 05, 2011

From the Relief Society Magazine, 1933 –

And They Called it Mother’s Day

by Irene McCullough

“Gee, Mom, it’s Mother’s Day, tomorrow,” spoke up chubby faced eight-year-old Tommy. “Will you give me fifty cents to buy you a present?”

“But dear, if I gave you fifty cents to buy me a present, I would be buying myself one, would I not?”

“Well, yes, but how can I earn it?”

“Clean up the garage and then I will give it to you.”

“But couldn’t you let me have it right now? Ken and Phil are going down to the drugstore now to buy their mother something and I want to go with them. I will do my work when I get back.”

“Run along then, but don’t forget, you must hurry back and earn it.”

“May I have the afternoon off tomorrow, mum?” said Julia, the maid. “I want to go see my dear old Mother and take her some flowers. She’s getting pretty old you know.”

“I did want to go to Sunday School,” answered Mrs. Spencer. “They are going to have a fine musical program. I seldom get a chance to go, but seeing it is Mother’s Day, I thought I would try. We won’t bother with a big dinner so maybe I can go in the morning and you can get off in the afternoon.”

“Thanks ever so much, mum.”

“Mother,” called Alice from upstairs. “I forgot to tell you that father called up and said to tell you that he had invited Grandpa and Grandma up for dinner tomorrow and told them to bring Uncle Ben and Aunt Sue with them. He says it’s Mother’s Day and he wants his Mother to be here, and Ma, I forgot to save up so I could buy you a present. Will it be all right if I charge one for you?”

“No, dear, just forget it.”

Mary stopped her work a moment to brush away a tear and with it went all hopes of going to Sunday School. She knew it would be impossible to get five children and a husband off to Sunday School, prepare a big dinner, let the maid off for the afternoon and take care of a baby in between time and go to school. Dad must be on time as they expected a large crowd and he had been asked to help out.

Morning came. The usual Sunday morning hustle and bustle.

“Is my best suit pressed, Mary?” called Dad as he powdered his clean shaven face.

“Yes, I pressed it last night. It’s hanging in your closet.”

“Thanks, dear,” exclaimed the over-indulgent husband as he brought forth the immaculate suit.

“Thank heaven they’re all off and I can get to this dinner,” sighed Mary. “There will be at least twelve here and Dad always expects something extra nice for his folks.”

It was one grand rush for Mary all day.

Evening found Grandpa, Grandma, Aunt Sue and Uncle Ben, Dad and the children seated about the fireplace, content with the day and themselves. Mary alone was unhappy. As she wearily climbed the stairs to put the baby to bed, she began to realize how hungry she was. She had been so busy feeding the others she had not taken time to eat.

“There goes that darned old radio again,” she thought.

“To our mothers,” roared out a masculine voice over the air, “we owe everything. We honor them!”

Hastily putting the baby down she plugged her fingers into her ears, at the same time giving the bedroom door a kick shut with her foot. She glanced into the glass.

“Look at me,” she thought. “Haven’t even had time to powder my nose.” A tear tried to steal down her cheek but she rudely brushed it away. Mary had just finished powdering when the front doorbell rang.

“Now who can that be?” she whispered. Opening her door a trifle, she listened.

“Come in, come in,” called Fred, her husband. “Mary will be tickled to death to see you. She will be down in a minute – just putting the baby to bed. Mother and Dad are here and we can all enjoy the evening together. My, what a swell spring coat you have, Sis.”

“Oh, yes. Sid gave me this for Mother’s Day,” answered Fred’s sister. “Of course I am not a mother yet, but I may be someday. We have only been married a little over three years.”

“Put me back a few bucks for that coat, Fred,” said the beaming Sid. “You see, I remember Stella on Christmas, New Year’s, Washington’s Birthday, Lincoln’s Birthday, Fourth of July, in fact, every holiday in the year. Wouldn’t dare go home if I didn’t.”

Stella laughed. “Well, you know you like to.”

Mary closed her door softly. “It’s the way you train them,” she whispered angrily. In a minute they would be calling her to come down. She would be expected to be pleasant and later on in the evening serve sandwiches or cake.

Plunging into her hat and coat she quietly slipped down the back stairs and out into the warm spring air. Free just for an hour or two. She couldn’t hear them call “Mother” or “Mary.” She started to run for fear they might catch her before she could hail a taxi or bus.

“Let me out at the Haber Café,” she called to the driver.

“I like to eat there. They say it’s Mother’s Day, so here’s where I am going to enjoy a part of it.”

It was late when Mary pushed open her front door. “All’s quiet,” she whispered as she slipped off her wraps. She had enjoyed the evening.

“Mary, will you please come here?” called a tired voice from the dimly lighted living room.

Mary slid up close beside her husband. He put his arm around her and said, “Dear, if you won’t ever leave me alone again with a house full of company and four children to put to bed, I’ll remember you Christmas, New Year’s, George Washington’s Birthday, Lincoln’s Birthday, Fourth of July, and twice on Mother’s Day.”



  1. A great story as a reminder and a true story for too many of us old men. We just got back from shopping to get what I planned for Sunday dinner: sloppy joes, chips and potato salad. No dessert. We have no idea who of our large bunch will show, but hopefully they’ll get the message that the days of huge dinners by grandma on Mother’s Day are in the past.

    Comment by CurtA — May 5, 2011 @ 1:14 pm

  2. Oh jeez. Sometimes I forget how grateful I am to live in the 21st century.

    Is the bit about “We have only been married a little over three years” supposed to be kind of a slam at Stella and Fred?

    Comment by E. Wallace — May 5, 2011 @ 1:23 pm

  3. Wow. One small gesture of independence is going to fix years of neglect?


    Let’s be realistic here.

    Mary will arrive home to a husband who is mad that she has humiliated him and offended his parents and other relatives. He either reads her the riot act or gives her the dreaded silent treatment. (Or both.) The kids will all still be up, so tired that they have pulled everything in the house out and it will take days to repair the damage. The baby will be up, crying, hungry, and needing its diaper changed. Food will be left out all over the kitchen and dirty dishes will be piled high. The in-laws will start gossiping about Mary among all their acquaintances, she will have been seen by herself in a cafe on a Sunday evening, and her reputation will never survive the ordeal.

    Happy Mother’s Day, Mary!

    Comment by Researcher — May 5, 2011 @ 2:26 pm

  4. Even today, three years of marriage is plenty of time for EVERYONE to start asking a couple why they don’t have kids. People started assuming my husband and I were infertile around our third anniversary (this would be three years ago at BYU). I liked that the story had a couple without kids yet, after “only three years”.

    Comment by HokieKate — May 5, 2011 @ 2:29 pm

  5. I agree with #3.

    Comment by living in zion — May 5, 2011 @ 3:29 pm

  6. I think there’s a typo in there. It read “over-indulgent” husband; it should have said “over-indulged.” At least in my humble opinion.

    Comment by proud daughter of eve — May 5, 2011 @ 6:57 pm

  7. How fitting that this comes so soon after the Divorce post!

    Comment by Mark B. — May 5, 2011 @ 8:24 pm

  8. After further thought, I think #3 has some good points but here’s another way to look at it: Mary needs to stand up for herself! She’s waiting for her family to intuit her needs and while it’s great when they do, you can’t count on it. If she’s a victim in this, she’s been a willing victim for some time and just choosing to run off for awhile (what if her family had called the police?) is passive-aggressive and just plain stupid.

    Comment by proud daughter of eve — May 6, 2011 @ 8:20 am

  9. I read this as a direct slap at neglectful husbands and a condemnation of the “traditional” expectations of women by men who take them for granted and abuse “a little authority, as they suppose”.

    I especially was interested in the inclusion of the radio message from “a masculine voice”:

    “To our mothers,” roared out a masculine voice over the air, “we owe everything. We honor them!”

    There’s a whole post and comment thread begging to be written in that line alone and its placement in the overall message. Suffice it to say that the more things change, the more they stay the same in too many cases.

    Comment by Ray — May 6, 2011 @ 9:43 am

  10. PDoE, I agree with you but chose to be silly rather than analytical in my comment.

    A week or two ago, Ardis posted a story about a Grandma who had been doing dishes her whole life. She finally, in one energetic burst, went and got a job and left her daughter in law and granddaughters to do all the dishes. The commenters on that post said, more or less: way to go, Grandma!

    I totally disagreed, although I didn’t comment. If her daughter in law was a woman of good humor, perhaps the story would have an ultimately good ending, but if not, her daughter in law would always hold it against Grandma that Grandma won a major battle in the passive aggressive wars. And then as Grandma aged, and her daughter in law again had the “upper hand,” Grandma could become subject to emotional neglect at the best, and elder abuse at the worst.

    It’s so much better to have good, open, honest communication, to discuss expectations, to figure out ways to get along, and to forge bonds of affection rather than competition in families. I realize that’s not always a realistic goal. Sometimes the dysfunctional behavior may be so ingrained that theatrics may be the only real solution. I don’t know.

    But the real issue in both of these stories is that the women lacked any real negotiating power. Perhaps they had tried and not had enough power to negotiate a change in household chores or some basic consideration of their emotional needs. The lack of power could be due to economic reasons (a major issue for many women throughout history), reasons of personality, or other variables. In the one case, becoming a wage earner seemed to gain Grandma some power. In the other case Mary held the threat of abandonment over her family to attempt to gain some power.

    In both cases, though, is there really any hope that the attempt to shift power within the family will change any of the underlying issues? Will it change all of the passive aggressive behavior? Will Mary’s husband really remember the Fourth of July, let alone Christmas? If you read carefully, you will note that he did not promise to remember her birthday or their anniversary, so he was being condescending rather than serious in his response to her behavior, and did not cede the smallest bit of his position of ultimate and overwhelming power in their relationship.

    What a sad story.

    Comment by Researcher — May 6, 2011 @ 10:40 am

  11. We are able to analyze both stories this way in 2011 because we now have the language to do it, and because recognition of women and our needs and wants and abilities and rights has advanced so far.

    In 1933 (this story) and 1943 (the dishwashing Grandma), I wonder whether women would have been able to have this conversation. I think not, at least in the same terms — what would have been available to them was the cheering that has been expressed on both stories by readers who recognized that a wrong had been committed and that a normally passive woman was rebelling against it.

    Even though I think you’re ultimately right, Researcher, I suspect stories like these met a need for women in 1933 and 1943 that was available only in these passive-aggressive terms. They’re like fairy tales where the princess has stood up to the dragon and there is a promise of happily-ever-after, however unrealistic that promise was.

    (In any case, I hope everyone realizes that all comments are welcome, whether you like the stories or not, whether you’re looking at them from 2011 or attempting to guess what they meant to mid-century readers. That undoubtedly means that conflicting opinions will appear — great! Let’s have ’em all.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 6, 2011 @ 11:25 am

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