Henderson County, Kentucky Personalities

Mary Towles Sasseen


U.S. Issues Big Stamp Of Whistler's Painting to Commemorate Holiday

M other! Fondest, sweetest word.
O n the lips of mortals heard.
T eacher wise of childhood's ways.
H elping hand in older days,
E ver flowing fount of joy.
R ich in love, without alloy.
S elf-sacrifice is her daily theme,

D evoted loved her nightly dream.
A ll adore her whose dear face
Y ears can never rob of grace.
•  Mary Towles Sasseen

When 200,000,000 copies of Whistler's portrait of his mother roll off government presses in the form of Mothers' Day stamps this month, the public will think of Anna Jarvis, Philadelphia woman who got Congress in 1914 to pass a resolution calling for a national Mothers' Day, as found of the holiday.

But at the Jefferson School, Wauwatosa, pupils will honor Mary Towles Sasseen Wilson as the original creator and promoter of Mothers' Day. Mrs. Wilson was the aunt of Mrs. Reuben Greene, 826 N. Seventieth Street, mother of 8-year-old Weyler Greene, a third grade pupil of the school who has copyrighted proof that his kinswoman conceived the idea of honoring mothers 13 years before Miss Jarvis launched her campaign.

The Friday before Mothers' Day, Weyler's class will dress up in costumes of the early nineties and give a program including quotations and verses from a booklet published by Mrs. Wilson, then Mary Sasseen, in 1893.

The idea of Mothers' Day as a national celebration was conceived by the aunt of Mrs. Greene and carried to fulfillment by the Philadelphia woman. The first promoter for Mothers' Day was a school teacher of Henderson, Kentucky, later the wife of Judge Marshall Wilson of Florida, and the sister of Mrs. Greene's mother.

After Mothers' Day had been adopted by the Kentucky Legislature, due to Miss Sasseen's efforts, and schools in Ohio, including those of Springfield, had made it an institution, Mary Towles Sasseen Wilson died (1906) and Anna Jarvis, a Philadelphia Sunday school teacher, took up the work of making it a day of honor for mothers in all states.

The originator of the idea of Mothers' Day, according to her niece, Mrs. Greene, was an attractive, auburn haired woman who was devoted to her school work and to her mother, grandmother of the Wauwatosa mother. Mrs. Greene has two sons, Weyler, 8, and Billy, 13.

Mary Sasseen was born and reared in the beautiful little city of Henderson, Kentucky, on the south bank of the Ohio River. Henderson with a population of about 15,000 still remembers the woman who contended that once a year children of the nation, juveniles and adults, ought to honor their mothers. She instituted the first Mothers' Day on April 20, 1893, the birthday of her mother.

Kentucky Was First

Miss Sasseen published a pamphlet in 1893 outlining her ideas of commemorating the tender ties of motherhood and bestowing a tribute of honor to the mothers of the land. The book was copyrighted that year. She traveled extensively and addressed educational societies and other organizations in various parts of the country in her effort to have the observance of Mother's Day nationally recognized and adopted. The Kentucky Legislature adopted the idea first, and in 1894 through her efforts the day was formally celebrated in all the public schools of Springfield, Ohio. In 1899 Miss Sasseen was a candidate for superintendent of public instruction of Kentucky, and it was generally discussed over the state that she had first conceived the plan of celebrating Mother's Day.

Miss Sasseen came of a distinguished family of Kentucky. She was a granddaughter of Judge Thomas Towles, a noted jurist of his day, and her ancestors were all of Revolutionary stock. In 1900 she married Judge Wilson and left Henderson to make her home in Florida. She died there in childbirth.

Miss Jarvis Announced Plan

It was just a year later, that Miss Jarvis invited a friend to spend the second Sunday in May with her to commemorate the anniversary of her mother's death. On that occasion Miss Jarvis announced her plan for the national observance of Mother's Day. The following year Philadelphia observed this day with fitting memorial services in the churches and homes. Miss Jarvis, meanwhile, had written thousands of letters to prominent ministers, teachers, business and professional men about the plan, and press dispatches carried the story over the country, many newspaper discussing the plan with favor, in their editorial problems. But, few seem to realize today, that the pioneer in this national observance of motherhood, was not Miss Jarvis, but a Kentucky school teacher who laid the groundwork for the idea through 13 years of untiring work.

Mrs. Greene has in her possession the first pamphlet which Miss Sasseen wrote. It contains numerous statements, comments and verses by noted men with reference to mothers, stories of the influence of mothers on men who became great, and poems by the author.

Wilson Announced Date

The Jefferson School program will contain quotations, poems and ideas from this booklet, under direction of Miss Martha Napercinsid, third grade teacher.

The formal proclamation of Mother's Day as a national holiday was made by President Woodrow Wilson just a few weeks before the World War began. Celebration since then has been an increasingly popular custom. Postmaster General James A. Farley's decision to engrave Mother's Day postage stamps, however, marks the first official federal participation in the event.

The selection of Whistler's mother for the stamp is considered a happy one from every standpoint. The picture shows the elderly woman in lace cap and dark dress, sitting in a contemplative mood. Mrs. Whistler was a strongly religious woman. Her son was a sprightly Bohemian, friend of Oscar Wilde and one of the gayest of the gay nineties' celebrities. He reveals in his portrait of his mother, however, a deep love and respect for her.

Twice Size Of Regular Stamp

On Mothers' Day the picture which Whistler called “Arrangement in Black and Gray; the Artist's Mother” will go into almost every home in America in the form of three-cent postage stamps.

The reproductions of James Abbot McNeil Whistler's greatest work will be about twice the size of stamps now in circulation, large enough to portray the reverence and the calm beauty with which the artist endowed his parent.

The Milwaukee Journal
Wednesday, April 4, 1934


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