Henderson County, Kentucky Personalities

Mary Towles Sasseen

Kentucky Woman Originated Idea of Mother's Day, St. Petersburg, FL


It is a common thing to hear that Mother's Day was first established as an annual American institution through the efforts of florists and candy-makers as a means to stimulate their trade and introduce their stock into homes that otherwise would not be reached. Then there is another legend that whistler's portrait of his mother, that masterpiece known throughout the world as "Whistler's Mother," encouraged such a feeling as to effect the beginning of Mother's day.

There are these and others - all wrong and all foolish.

There are those people who believe that Miss Anna Jarvis, Philadelphia, originated the idea which later was adopted by congress. That too is wrong, if official affidavits, documents, and records prove anything.

Mrs. Betty Foley, prominently socially in St. Petersburg and for many years a resident of this city, has in her possession copies of letters, affidavits, and other records which satisfactorily prove that Miss Jarvis did not originate the Mother's Day idea, but that the honor is due the late Mary Towles Sasseen, Henderson, Kentucky, who was a close friend of Mrs. Foley.

Mary Towles Sasseen was for many years a teacher in the Henderson public schools. So inspired was she by her mother's life that

nearest that date, as that date was the anniversary of the birth of her mother. I have been informed that the people of Henderson and Henderson county have generally observed that day as suggested by Miss Sasseen. The city of Springfield, Ohio, caught the spirit at once and joined in the procession.

Miss Sasseen came of a distinguished family. She was a granddaughter of Judge Thomas Towles, a noted jurist. Her ancestors were of Revolutionary stock. She was at one time a candidate for Superintendent of Public Schools for her native state. She was a member of the Episcopal Church and was happily married to Judge Marshall Wilson, moved to Florida and died in 1906, beloved by all who knew her.

In order to establish the fact that it was not Miss Anna Jarvis of Philadelphia who originated the idea of Mother's Day, it is necessary to refer to published records now on file with the librarian of congress, which records may be examined and found true as shall be stated in this article.

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 on this occasion that Miss Jarvis planned for a Mother's Day.
The following is taken from records in the Public Library at Washington, which information was given at the request of Miss Susan S. Towles of Henderson, Kentucky:

May 4, 1921
"To meet the request of Miss Susan S. Towles the following are noted:

"Jarvis, Ann, Mothers' 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 6rd, Washington, 1914 House: Mr. Heflin Joint Resolution 263, Passed, signed; Present to President, May 7, 1914 v. 51:3233."

There are other references that show conclusively that Miss Jarvis was neither the author or the originator of Mothers' Day, which honor in fact belongs to Miss Sasseen and to none other.

A few years ago I wrote a very polite and kindly letter to Miss Jarvis, setting forth the fact that Miss Sasseen was in fact the originator of Mothers' Day. I asked for further correspondence. That letter was never answered. Recently I wrote to the Mayor of Philadelphia asking for further light on the subject. Although I enclosed a self-addressed and stamped envelope for a reply, expecting a reply. No answer as yet.

In the presentation of this paper I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness to Hon. Sol O. Heilbronner of Henderson, for much valuable information and assistance in its preparation. Mr. Heilbronner, as well as every good citizen of his town and county, wants to see that due credit is given to the woman who was the first to show public respect for the mothers of our great nation.

I do not wish to be understood in any way that I would rob Miss Jarvis of any just claim that is or may be her's. I would not pluck one star from her crown, nor would I for wealth or fame of glory rob her of any honor that justly belongs to her.

Neither would I forget that it was a friend of mine, a friend of all, a Kentuckian, who now peacefully rests from her labors in the sunny South where the air is rich perfume for the silent sleeper who is awaiting the call when time shall be no more here on earth. Sweet be the rest of Mary Towles Sasseen. Here is a smile for the living - a tear for the dead.

There are two days in the year that should bring joy and happiness to the nations of earth - Christmas day, when we celebrate the birth of the Savior of earth; the second Sunday in May, with almost the same reverence, when we pay homage to the name of mother. An ancient philosopher once said: "As God could not be everywhere, therefore He made mothers."

The people of the city of Henderson and of Henderson County have in mind the erection of a suitable monument to the memory of Mary Towles Sasseen. I hope I may live to see the day, and be present on the day of dedication and permitted to shed a silent tear and lay a wreath of flowers at the foot of the monolith as a token of my affection for one whose memory is so dear to me.

St. Petersburg, Florida, Saturday, May 7, 1932

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2003, HCH&GS