A History of Mother’s Day in the United States


Today is Mother’s Day in the United States so many of us are honoring our mothers with flowers, brunch, and blessings to what humorist Erma Bombeck called “the second oldest profession” (we won’t talk about what the first oldest profession is…)

Where did this holiday come from? It began in 1908 when Anna Jarvis, Progressive Era activist, decided to pay tribute to her mother. She also, incidentally, started the tradition of giving flowers on this day by sending five hundred white carnations to the church in her hometown in Pennsylvania as part of the tribute.

Photo Credit: Anna Jarvis, founder of Mother’s Day in America. Probably taken around the turn of the century, judging by the hairstyle and clothes, but no additional information about the image. Uploaded 4 May 2017 by Jonas Duyvejonck: jonasduyvejonck/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Although Jarvis is credited as the godmother of Mother’s Day in the United States, she was not the first to come up with the idea. That honor goes to Jarvis’ own mother Ann Maria Jarvis. From all accounts, Ann Maria was the prototype Victorian woman, devoted to children and church. At the same time, she was also an activist but, unlike the suffragists, she kept to her side of the separate spheres. Her work was confined to areas acceptable to women at that time (home and church). Her activism was nonetheless important, as she formed Mothers’ Day club events where the goal was to educate mothers on proper hygiene to prevent massive infant death rates prevalent in the nineteenth century. 

It’s interesting to note Ann Maria conceived of Mother’s Day quite differently than her daughter. To Ann Maria, maternal responsibility was very much linked to community service, and her idea was to celebrate the role of motherhood in society and family. Her daughter, on the other hand, wanted to make this day about honoring one’s own mother. So while the mother saw Mother’s Day as a collective tribute to mothers, the daughter personalized it. Hence, we call it Mother’s Day and not Mothers’ Day

The fight to get Mother’s Day declared a national holiday came during the first decade of the twentieth century when many women were advocating taking their lives outside the private sphere and fighting in social and political arenas for their rights and identities as individuals. 

It might seem a little odd that Jarvis would, at this time in history, lead a movement honoring women’s most traditional role inside the home, especially considering that Jarvis was one of these New Women https://tammayauthor.com/uncategorized/the-progressive-eras-new-woman who held a career as an advertising editor and earned a college degree. But suffragism was also about making women visible and respected for their own merits and contributions to society. Mothers fit right into this category (since you have to be a woman to be a mother, right?)

In May of 1914, only a few months before the outbreak of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation to make Mother’s Day a national holiday. By the 1920s, Mother’s Day, like most American holidays, had become a target for consumerism, specifically florists and candy makers. Jarvis was disillusioned by this toward the end of her life and spent much of her later years trying to gain the recognition she deserved. One of the beautiful things about history is that, while innovators may not be appreciated during their own lifetime, we can look back and give them the kudos they deserve decades, even centuries, later. 

Mothers play a huge role in my historical fiction series set during the Gilded Age. The Waxwood Series is about Vivian, a Nob Hill society debutante who unravels the secrets and lies of her family’s past to find her own journey of maturity and her place in the world. Much of this involves her relationship with her mother Larissa. Larissa is a complex character as a mother and a woman and the series also takes Vivian and Larissa through the evolution of their relationship over the last decade of the 19th century.

You can find out more about this series and all the books on this page https://tammayauthor.com/other-works. Book 1 of the series, The Specter for free on all book vendors and for a very limited time, Book 3 of the series, Pathfinding Women, is available at a discount price.

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to newsletter subscribers here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!


Getting Their Priorities Straight: Easter in the Early 20th Century


It’s Easter Sunday today (in the United States, that is). The cartoon below got me thinking about my blog post last year which talks about Easter in the Gilded Age and what Easter was like in the Progressive Era, just a quarter of a century later. I think you’ll agree with me that it was light night and day.

The Gilded Age is roughly the last quarter of the 19th century while the Progressive Era is generally thought of as the first few decades of the early 20th century up until World War 1. These aren’t hard-and-fast boundaries, but generally, that’s what we’re talking about.

It seems like a subtle difference, but change was very rapid during this period in America, unlike the 21st century where things seem to be evolving at turtle-speed (until COVID came along, that is). What changed the nation’s attitudes toward Easter?

Photo Credit: She won’t bow to the hat, C. J. Taylor, 1896, Library of Congress, Chromolithographs: Picryl/No known restrictions 

The cartoon above gives us a good idea. It pits a Gilded Age woman against a New Woman of the early 20th century. The Victorian woman, all feted for Easter, points at a lavish hat sitting on top of the Maypole as if to say, “and where’s your Easter bonnet, my dear?” The New Woman, dressed in more sensible garb, looks at her with some amusement as if to answer, “Ma’am, I have bigger fish to fry. Off to the suffragist parade!”

In my blog post last year, I wrote about how the holiday turned into another reason for Gilded Agers to show off their excesses and wealth by way of the Easter bonnet, Easter parade, and other holiday traditions. Progressives, however, had a totally different agenda. By the turn of the century, America the prosperous had become America the problematic. Many thought the nation needed fixing after what the last century had done to it and many took up the task of doing so. This is why reforms such as workers’ rights, women’s rights, and environmental issues became such a big part of the political and social agenda of the time.

Progressives took themselves seriously and their attitude toward Easter changed because of this. They saw it as a time for political and social renewal. In the framework of Progressive Era priorities, this makes sense. Change is about renewal and change was the word of the day in the early 20th century. Renewing the nation, so to speak, was the passion of the progressives, so the symbolism inherent in Easter and its spring season represents fit right into that.

My protagonist in The Adele Gossling Mysteries is all about renewal and change. She’s unabashedly a New Woman and stands up for women’s rights, sometimes a little too passionately in the eyes of her more conservative brother and the Arrojo townspeople. Her fight for women to be heard and recognized extends not only to the living but to the dead. It’s her motivation for getting involved with crime. She wants justice for every woman, even those that can no longer be heard.

But Adele is also about change and progress on a more practical level. In Book 6 (coming this summer) she takes her stationery store to new levels, including hiring some extra help and building a new wing for her shop.

For right now, though, you can enjoy reading about Adele tackling murder and mayhem when the circus comes to town in Murder Under a Twilight Roof, Book 5 of the series. It’s set to come out later this month but it’s at a special preorder price right now, so you can grab a copy here

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The Legend and Paradox of Saint Patrick


Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! This is a holiday many of us in America, Irish and non-Irish, enjoy. There is lots of celebration on this day with everything Irish, including hanging out in an Irish pub, wearing green, and enjoying amazing Irish tunes (which I love).

But Saint Patrick’s Day actually has much more somber origins. The story of Saint Patrick, the saint after which the day was named, is an interesting and somewhat controversial one. As a historical figure, Saint Patrick was, in his lifetime — well, not as saintly as his name suggests.

We imagine saints as ethereal, pure characters. But from what we know about Saint Patrick, he had his faults. We know he lived in the fifth century and, in fact, wasn’t actually Irish. He was British, born in a time when Britain was under Roman rule. We also know as a teenager he went through a pretty traumatic experience. He was kidnapped by Irish raiders and enslaved. From here, the history gets a little muddy. Some sources say he was released or escaped, went back to Roman Britain, and became a priest, then decided to go back to Ireland to try and bring the Christian faith to the Irish who practiced a pagan religion at the time. Others say he never left Ireland, working as a shepherd there, and found Christianity during this difficult time and then became a priest as a result.

This drawing shows one of the myths of Saint Patrick — that he drove away all the snakes in Ireland. But this is now believed to be a legend and not truth, as it’s generally believed there were no snakes to drive away in Ireland at that time!

Photo Credit: Drawing of Saint Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland (see note above), 1872, artist unknown, Library of Congress: Picryl/Public domain

As a holy man, he was not exactly what one would call patient. He had a reputation for being intolerant of other people’s beliefs. He was also rumored to have a violent temper, something we would never associate with a saint. Because of his traumatic experiences, he never received the proper schooling, and he was pretty touchy about this. The last thing we might envision a saint to be is lacking self-esteem, but it seems Saint Patrick was just that.

However grounded in religion, Saint Patrick’s Day become something entirely different at the turn of the 20th century. In America, it became a holiday that allowed for the large Irish immigrant population (who suffered a lot of prejudice, especially in the big cities) to celebrate their roots and rejoice in their ethnicity. That perspective on the holiday has usurped the religious one so we can be happy and celebrate rich Irish traditions today.

Celebration is what the fifth book in my Adele Gossling Mysteries is all about! The town of Arrojo is celebrating the coming of the circus, which was a rare and joyous event in early 20th-century life. But amid laughter and fun, there is also murder. You’ll be able to read all about that when the book comes out next month, but you can snag your copy now at a special preorder price. Details about Murder Under a Twilight Roof along with links to your favorite booksellers are here

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to newsletter subscribers here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!


Civil Rights: Not Just a Mid-20th Century Phenomenon


Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day where Americans celebrate not just the work of an extraordinary man and civil rights leader but the strides made by many who fought for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s. 

Since I write fiction that takes place during the Progressive Era, I wondered if civil rights, like women’s rights, started earlier decade than the mid-20th century events we’re more familiar with. I did some digging and it turns out this is indeed the case. The progressives brought civil rights to the table some fifty years earlier than the word of King and others in the form of one of the instrumental organizations that worked for African American rights: the NAACP.

The NAACP (which stands for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) began in 1908 as a response to a wave of lynchings that occurred in Lincoln’s birthplace, Springfield, Illinois. Not surprisingly, a group of progressives, outraged by the violence, organized a meeting that included some of the most well-known abolitionists of the previous era such as W.E.B. Dubois and Ida B. Wells. From this meeting emerged the roots of the NAACP, formally established in 1909. 

Photo Credit: A display featuring highlights and emblem of the NAACP at the Kraemer Family Library at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs to celebrate 100 years of the formation of the NAACP, Feb 2009: UCCS Kraemer Family Library/Flickr/CC BY NC SA 2.0 

The NAACP’s mission was to fight racial injustice and discrimination not through violence or grassroots call to action but through the democratic system already in place in America. In other words, they used the same system that oppresses African Americans and other people of color to change laws and policies to fight injustice and discrimination. This is a different approach than many of the later civil rights activists, who believed the system could never work for them and chose more direct means outside the system to achieve their goals of justice and equality. 

The NAACP won several victories in court in the early 20th century. For example, they won a case against the “Grandfather Clause,” (passed in some Southern states which made certain activities, including voting, illegal for people whose grandfathers had not served in the Confederate army). In 1917, they also won a case against racial segregation in Louisville, Kentucky where the court ruled it unconstitutional to prohibit African Americans from buying land in mainly white neighborhoods.

Prior to World War I, the NAACP didn’t see much action beyond the above-mentioned court cases. However, after the war, the organization began to gain more prominence and exposure. Their focus changed with the times such as fighting for more opportunities for African American workers during the Great Depression in the 1930s. 

The NAACP still exists today and fights for racial justice and equality. In 2000, the organization launched a campaign to encourage more African Americans to vote and succeeded in increasing the votes in that community by almost a million. They continue to fight for the African American voice in today’s issues. I think the headline on their home page, “Continuing to fight for Democracy” says it all.

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Friday the 13th: Religious, Literary, and Cultural Origins


I’ve been fascinated by the number 13 since high school when I had a morose phase that included an obsession with Sylvia Plath’s poems. In “Doomsday”, Plath talks about “lunatic thirteens” and the idea of the number thirteen having madness hidden behind it intrigued me.

Photo Credit: Black and white photo of black cat with arched back: BlueGarou/FreeIMG/CC0 

But the legend of Friday the 13th (the day, not the movie) is more innocuous than that. Some of its roots are, interestingly, religious rather than occult. The story of the Last Supper is about a table set for thirteen. According to some sources, the last guest to arrive was Judas who, of course, betrayed Jesus, a betrayal that eventually led to the crucifixion. That led to the idea that the number thirteen is an unlucky number.

Many believe the significance of Friday the 13th is more literary. For example, many authors exploited this idea of the unlucky and even haunted thirteen throughout the years, beginning with Hesiod in 700 BC, who warned farmers not to plant their seeds on the 13th day on the month because they wouldn’t grow. Others who singled out Friday the 13th as a day to watch out for include Geoffrey Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales (1387), where Chaucer hinted trying to start a new journey on the thirteenth wasn’t a good idea, and Thomas Lawson in his novel Friday the Thirteenth (1907), where the plot combined the unluckiness of the day with Progressive Era ideals about corrupt business practices that had to go. Right now, I’m reading M. R. James (said to be the godfather of the ghost story), and one of his stories, “Number 13,” also focuses on the idea of the unlucky number and its relation to the supernatural.

Culture also had a hand in determining the number thirteen as an unlucky number. There are superstitions surrounding the idea of “the thirteenth guest”. There’s even a classic pre-code film by that name that stars a non-dancing Ginger Rogers you can watch on YouTube here. Agatha Christie’s book Lord Edgeware Dies, renamed Thirteen for Dinner when made for TV in 1985, carries this idea of the unlucky thirteen. One of the characters at the dinner mentioned above reminds Hercule Poirot about the superstition that bad things happen to the first person who gets up from a table set for thirteen. When Poirot asks him who did get up first, the young man grins and says, “Me.” Since the story is a murder mystery, you can guess what happens to this dinner guest in the film!

While Friday the 13th doesn’t have its day (no pun intended) in my upcoming release, The Mystery of the Golden Cat, there are plenty of unlucky things that happen on another important day of the year: Labor Day. To read all about it, you can preorder the book here.  

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to newsletter subscribers here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!