Skip to content

Mother’s Day has its origins in the struggle for the right to water and sanitation

Anna Reeves Jarvis

Mother’s Day has its historical roots in the struggle for the human right to water and sanitation.

Slate reports, “The women who originally celebrated Mother’s Day conceived of it as an occasion to use their status as mothers to protest injustice and war. In 1858, Anna Reeves Jarvis organized Mother’s Work Days in West Appalachian communities to protest the lack of sanitation that caused disease-bearing insects and polluted water to sicken or even kill poor workers.”

The West Virginia Encyclopedia adds, “Jarvis organized Mothers’ Day Work Clubs, which raised money to buy medicine for needy families and cared for families stricken by tuberculosis. Club members worked with local physicians to obtain clean water supplies and safe sewage disposal.”

A Huffington Post blog notes, “Jarvis also worked for universal access to medicine for the poor [and was] a pacifist who served both sides in the Civil War by working for camp sanitation and medical care for soldiers of the North and the South.”

After her death in 1905, Jarvis’ daughter campaigned to have a day commemorated in honour of her mother’s work.

In 1914, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson signed a Congressional resolution recognizing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

More than 100 years later, the right to water and sanitation has not been fulfilled.

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow notes, “Currently almost 2 billion people have no access to clean water and 2.5 billion have no access to adequate sanitation. Close to 3 million people – mostly children under 5 – die of waterborne disease every year and more than half the hospital beds on Earth are filled with people suffering from this condition. Lack of clean water kills more children than all forms of violence, including war.”

She highlights, “The water crisis could affect as many as 7 billion people over the next half century.”

Barlow has also emphasized that women are disproportionately affected when governments fail to provide adequate water and sanitation services. To listen to Barlow’s speech ‘Water: The Most Pressing Women’s Issue’, please click here.

This Mother’s Day, let us recommit ourselves to achieving a progressive vision of global water justice.