Henderson County, Kentucky Personalities

Mary Towles Sasseen


Winchester Man Discovers Miss Sasseen Conceived
Idea and Began Observance in 1887


Few who observe Mothers' Day on the second Sunday of May each year know the name of the woman who first conceived the idea of setting aside one day in the year for a special tribute to motherhood.

A Boston business man, Ernest Dudley CHASE, has discovered after long research that the “mother” of Mothers' Day was the late Mary Towles SASSEEN of Henderson, Kentucky.

As far back as 1887, Miss SASSEEN, then a school teacher, began the observance of Mothers' Day in her own school, later undertaking a campaign to have the day observed on a national scale.

Her efforts in this direction did not succeed in her lifetime and it remained for a Philadelphia woman, Miss Anna JARVIS, to win national recognition for the day.

In 1914, through the instrumentality of Miss JARVIS, President WILSON proclaimed Mothers' Day a legal, public holiday. Congress passed a resolution designating the second Sunday in May as the date for the observance.

Mr. CHASE, whose researches have disclosed the part played by Miss SASSEEN in starting the movement, lives in Winchester. His hobby is creating unique greeting cards.

Wanted It on April 20

On President ROOSEVELT'S 53 rd birthday, last January, Mr. CHASE sent him a 60-pound birthday card which he had designed and made with his own hands. The card bore autographed postage stamps donated by 20,000 prominent American citizens, arranged in a variety of patriotic designs.

Miss SASSEEN, according to Mr. CHASE, had hoped to establish April 20 (her own mother's birthday) as the day for the national observance.

In 1893, the young woman, member of a distinguished Kentucky family, issued a pamphlet for use in the schools. Two of these pamphlets are on display in the Henderson Historical Society at Henderson, Kentucky.

“Certainly this idea of observing Mothers' Day was new to Miss SASSEEN,” said Mr. CHASE, “for here is what she says in the opening sentences of this booklet: “Having by experience learned how much one can teach a child regarding the lives and works of the poets by our system of authors' days, it suggested itself to me that by celebrating Mothers' Day once a year much of the veneration, love and respect due to parents might, by song, verse and story, be inculcated in the next generation.'”

According to Mr. CHASE, the young teacher felt that the observance of the day should be extended, “in the hope of awakening on the part of the child, a deeper appreciation of her who is the central figure of the home.”

Said her introduction to the booklet, “May it strengthen the family bonds, making them more beautiful and tender. May it breathe a hope of that future where language is music, thought is light, and love is law.”

Later Miss SASSEEN went to visit her sister, Mrs. E. W. OLDS, in Springfield, Ohio, and there they were successful in introducing Mothers' Day in the Springfield public schools. Following out her campaign for national recognition of Mothers' Day, she traveled extensively and appeared before many educational bodies.

In 1900 she gave up teaching, married Judge Marshall Wilson (1904) and left Kentucky to make her home in Florida. Six years later she died while still endeavoring to promote a Nation-wide observance of the day.

Honored by Kentucky

The Kentucky Legislature, in recognition of her work, passed a resolution acclaiming her as “the originator of the idea of Mothers' Day celebration” and praising her efforts “to bring to the minds of children every where the full admiration, respect and love due all mothers.”

“And that is not all,” said Mr. CHASE. “In the peaceful shaded Henderson cemetery stands a white marker erected by the county historical society bearing this inscription: ‘Mary Towles Sasseen in 1887 Founded Mothers' Day.'”

Miss JARVIS, who succeeded in doing what her predecessor could not do, chose the second Sunday in May as the date for the observance because that day fell nearest the anniversary of her mother's birth.

In recent years, according to Mr. CHASE, the observance has spread to other countries and in Canada, Austria, Denmark, Hungary and Switzerland the second Sunday in May is sacred to motherhood.

Belgium observes Mothers' Day on August 15, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Other countries holding an observance on different days in May are France, Germany, Poland, Rumania and Sweden.

“In England,” said Mr. CHASE, “the fourth Sunday in Lent is known as “Mothering Sunday.”

“The English observance dates back to the Middle Ages when once a year the knights and peasants visited their parents on the mid-Sunday of Lent, taking to them some little present, such as a cake or a trinket.

“A youth following this custom was said to go a-mothering and thence the day itself came to be call Mothering Sunday.”


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