Henderson County, Kentucky Personalities
Mary Towles Sasseen
As Mother's day, the second Sunday of May approaches, I wonder how many of us stop to think why, when, and how this event originated.
We all know that this most sacred commemoration was originated by Mary Towles Sasseen in honor of her own mother's natal day, April 20th.
As far back as the early eighties, the Kentucky Educational Association met in Louisville, Ky. and it was at this meeting that Mary Towles Sasseen outlined a tentative plan, which was submitted to the Association for consideration. The suggestion was offered by her that April 20th be observed all over the land as Mother's Day, or the Sunday nearest that date.
Springfield, Ohio caught the spirit at once, and also joined in the observance of this celebration. Miss Sasseen had a sister living in Springfield, and while visiting there in 1894, interested Cary Boggess, Superintendent of the public schools in her plan, and he very enthusiastically inaugurated the observance of Mother's Day in the schools of that place.
Miss Sasseen's devotion to her own mother undoubtedly accounts for her heart's interest in the project, and in a book entitled "Mother's Day Celebration," published in 1893, she dedicated it to her mother in the hope that April 20th, the anniversary of her mother's birth, be celebrated as Mother's Day.
So thoroughly did she become obsessed with the idea of a national observance, that Miss Sasseen traveled at her own expense, to educational gatherings, to address them on the subject nearest her heart. In 1906, she addressed a national conference at Sandusky, Ohio, and on another occasion, she spoke at a conference held in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and still another time she was present at a gathering held at Colorado Springs where she interested many on the subject.
It is claimed by some people, that Miss Anna Jarvis, of Philadelphia originated the idea of Mother's Day, but we find this item in the public records now on file with the Librarian of Congress, at Washington. "It seems that in 1907, a quarter of a century after Miss Sasseen's plan had been adopted by the teachers of the state of Kentucky, that Miss Jarvis on the anniversary of the birth of her mother, invited a lady friend to her home to take dinner. It was in this occasion that Miss Jarvis planned for a Mother's Day." The following is the record at Washington: "Jarvis, Anna, Mother's Day, in honor of the best mother who ever lived - the mother of your heart. (Philadelphia, Printed by B. F. Emery Co. 1913.)"
"U. S. Congress, 63rd, Washington, 1914, House, Mr. Heflin joint resolution 263, Passed, signed Presented to President, May 7, 1914, v.51, 3233," and so Woodrow Wilson signed the bill, making the second Sunday in May, a national observance of Mother's Day.
There are other references that show conclusively that Miss Jarvis was neither the author nor the originator of Mother's Day, which honor, in fact, belong to Miss Sasseen and to none other.
Miss Jarvis is entitled to great credit in connection with the national celebration of the day, as it was she who had the bill introduced in Congress, and declared a national day in 1914, but the idea of Mother's Day was conceived long before the time accredited to her.
It was first thought of, and the day celebrated by Miss Sasseen and the pupils in the Henderson, Ky. Center Street School, long before the sponsors of the movement claim it originated.
In September 1885, I began to teach in this school, where Mary Towles Sasseen was principle of the primary department. Even then she wrote stories and poems for her pupils to recite on April 20th, her mother's birthday. Calling it "Mother's Day Celebration", inviting the mothers of the pupils to be present at that time. She was constantly talking and working for this scheme, often expressing the wish that she might live to see it a national observance.
A few years ago, former Senator Ed Walker, a native of Henderson, Ky., introduced a bill in the Kentucky legislature, and succeeded in having it passed, declaring Mary Towles Sasseen the originator of Mother's Day. But enough of these facts and dates, we shall pass on to a short sketch of this remarkable woman.
"I'm going to paint a picture with a pencil of my own. I shall have no hand to help me; I shall paint it all alone. Oft I fancy it before me, and my hopeful heart grows faint as I contemplate the grandeur of the woman I would paint."
Mary Towles Sasseen - how the mention of the name carries me back to the Center Street School in Henderson, Ky. I see again the animated face of Miss Sasseen, and hear the golden voice as she talks of the subject nearest her heart, Mother's Day.
She was born in Henderson, Ky. in the late fifties (05 Mar 1860) on the south banks of the Ohio River. Here she lived through her girlhood, until the hungry waters of the river claimed her home. The family then moved to the simple little cottage at 232 South Main Street, where that remarkable woman, her beloved mother, passed away.
Mamie Sasseen was quite tall, had red hair, and one of the brightest faces, and the wittiest tongue I've ever known. One of her chief charms was her happy go lucky spirit. Always smiling when the occasion demanded, but very firm and dignified. Quick at repartee, sharp of wit, she was always able to hold her own with the most intelligent. She was noted for that famous smile, and her advice was, "Say what you'd like to say, just so you say it with a smile, and you'll be safe."
Of old Revolutionary stock, and from a long line of lawyer ancestors, Mamie Towles Sasseen inherited much of their sound minds and keen wit. Her grandfather, Judge Thomas Towles, was one of the brightest lawyers at the bar of Kentucky, having never lost a case during his legal practice. He wrote such an illegible hand, that on one occasion having presented his brief to the judge, the latter said he didn't know what it was about, so requested Judge Towles to read his own writing. Judge Towles replied "he'd be d---- if he could read it either." I have a paper written by him, but, to this day, have never found what its all about.
For many years Miss Sasseen taught in the Center Street School, but in the early nineties, she was forced to give up this work on account of ill health, going to Pensacola, Florida, where she took up a homestead ranch. She married Judge William Marshall Wilson, of Pensacola, on Sept. 28, 1904. Eighteen months later, 1906, the day of the great San Francisco earthquake, she gave her life to the cause of motherhood, when her child was born.
"Perhaps one of the greatest joys that could come to any woman, would have been felt by Mary Towles Sasseen Wilson to-day, were she alive and could see that the project mothered and fostered by herself through many years in the south, has grown and expanded until it has covered nearly the whole breadth of the United States. She, the originator of Mother's Day, hallowed it where she herself became a mother, a privilege which she considered the most sacred in the world."
A poem from her book, "A Mother's Love," is most appropriately
A mother's love! The sacred thought
A mother's love, Oh, 'tis the dew
I do hope the time will come when a shaft of purest marble, symbolizing Motherhood, and erected by the whole nation, will mark the last resting place of the grand woman, and be a Mecca for thousands of those who wish to express their love and reverence for the mothers of the nation.
I declare the above writing to be a true statement -
Sworn to and subscribed before me this 29th day of May A. D. 1931. Given under my hand and official seal this date.