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April 2023
1min read


When Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother’s Day, began to see the often crass and commercial uses to which her sacred day was put (as recounted in James P. Johnson’s “How Mother Got Her Day,” April/May, 1979), she flew into a rage that lasted the rest of her life. However, she surely would have approved a project put forth in 1918 by the normally unsentimental General John J. Pershing—a story passed along to us by reader Richard W. Sackett of Bethesda, Maryland: “In the late winter and early spring of 1918, when thousands of doughboys were arriving in France, many of the home people complained to their congressmen and to the Post Office Department that they were not hearing from their boys in France. Perhaps in response to these complaints, and to forestall any possible political pressure, General Pershing telegraphed all his commanding officers two days before Mother’s Day—May 12, 1918: ‘I wish that every officer and soldier of the American Expeditionary Forces would write a letter home on Mother’s Day. This is a little thing for each one to do, but these letters will carry back our courage and affection to the patriotic women whose love and prayers inspire us and cheer us on to victory.’ The soldiers were instructed to write ‘Mother’s Letter’ on the envelopes so that the Army Postal Service could spot them more easily and speed them home.

“The campaign was a great success; one transport alone carried no fewer than 1,425,000 letters, according to the Stars and Stripes for July 12, 1918. It must have been on the basis of this that Pershing, with the blessing of the Secretary of War, organized another campaign in 1919, this time far enough ahead so that the YMCA, which supplied writing materials to the troops, could print ‘Mother’s Day Letter’ on special envelopes.” Shown here, courtesy of Mr. Sackett, are Mother’s Day “covers” for 1918 and 1919.

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