Henderson County, Kentucky Personalities

Mary Towles Sasseen


Maymie Towles SASSEEN Held

Exercises in School

In 1887

By Harold V. Streeter


Henderson, Ky., May 8, ---

The eve of another Mother's Day, to be borne in tomorrow freighted with the fragrance of carnations, finds unhonored save only in a small way the memory of the Henderson woman believed to be the first to publicly honor Mother with exercises in the schools. That woman is Mrs. Towles Sasseen WILSON, dead since 1906.

As far back as 1887, twenty-seven years before the nation through official proclamation issued by President Woodrow WILSON, did honor to America's mothers, Miss Maymie Towles SASSEEN was paying public tribute to Henderson's mothers at the Center Street School. The day selected was April 20, the birthday of Miss SASSEEN'S own mother, and so deep rooted was the school teacher's convention that a respect for mothers should be inculcated through public exercises that she traveled to far places, often at her own expense, to urge such observances.

Made Mission Tour

The mother under the new system of education had so little to do with the child's schooling, Miss SASSEEN told her hearers. Men elected the school trustees who in turn elected the teachers. Mothers were no longer tutors in the home, she contended.

Her missionary work won recognition in Boston, in New York City, in Little Rock, Arkansas, Springfield, Ohio and in many places throughout Kentucky.

Writing on the subject in a pamphlet published in 1893, more than a decade before Annie JARVIS began her crusade for national recognition of Mother's Day, Miss SASSEEN said:

“Having by experience learned how much one can teach a child regarding the lives and works of poets by our system of Author's days, it suggested itself to me that by celebrating Mother's 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.

Meaning of Holiday

“By a Mother's Day we mean a day on which parents shall be invited to the school and a program presented, the recitation being on the subject of mother, the songs referring to the home.

“As teachers engaged, not in teaching for the few months you (addressing the teachers) are paid, but for eternity – engaged in the noblest calling on earth – shaping the lives of future citizens of this great republic, five minutes a day devoted to the necessary preparation will repay you an hundred fold in those traits of inestimable value which form character.”

Sustaining the immeasurable loss of that mother she loved, Miss SASSEEN moved to Florida in 1904, there marrying Judge Marshall WILSON. She died 18 months later.

From 1906, despite dubious efforts, little was accomplished toward attaining Miss SASSEEN recognition, although in that time, due to the efforts of Miss Annie JARVIS, Mother's Day was suggested by resolution of Senator HEFLIN of Alabama into the United States senate, the day being officially approved through the signatures of Woodrow WILSON and William Jennings BRYAN on May 8, 1914.

Memorial Planned

A movement toward the construction of a large memorial auditorium in Henderson with which to honor Miss Sasseen WILSON, was launched by the Central Labor Union on September 2, 1923 at its convention. The movement has been temporarily halted, according to Miss Susan TOWLES, Henderson librarian and a cousin of Mrs. Sasseen WILSON, because of the death of Samuel GOMPERS, head of the American Federation of Labor, who did so much toward gaining public recognition of Mother's Day and who is understood to have favored the memorial at Henderson.

Should the movement not be revived, another alternative is offered by Oscar LEDGER, president of the Audubon Memorial Association, who has suggested to Miss TOWLES that a building be constructed having one room as a memorial to John James AUDUBON and one to Mrs. Sasseen WILSON. The SASSEEN home, now the residence of Miss Ina CABELL, a teacher in the high school, is one of the picturesque homes of Henderson, setting far back from the street, and having a long low front.

What Home Means

The uncrowned champion of Mother's Day was a great believer in home. “The title deed,” she once said, “does not constitute a home. Other than money must (be) toward its purchase. There must be invested in it something of loyalty and love and choice, the cement of (ton), sacrifice, and forbearance, and time must add its finishing touch. All these things go with the making and owning of a home, and when thus made, that home becomes more, far more even in its material substance than soil, wood, and stone. Those lands and floors upon which you walk; those trees and roof beneath which you sit; that horizon from your window; those wells that enclose you are quickened into more than matter by so much of your living soul as has gone into them. Your home, fields, skies, walls, and you have become one.”

An ideal program which Mrs. WILSON outlined in her pamphlet of 1893 for Mother's Day included such typical songs and selections as “The Old, Red Shawl My Mother Wore,” “The Mocking Bird's Message of Home,” and “The Lullaby from Ermine,”

Observance Today

The program to be observed for the day in Henderson tomorrow will be held at 3 o'clock in the afternoon at the Grand Theater. It was arranged by E. M. PAUL, secretary of the Henderson Chamber of Commerce, and S. O. HEILBRONNER, Henderson lawyer, will preside. Dr. M. H. BUCKNER of Owensboro, Kentucky, will make the principal address. Group singing and solos by Miss Martha HAFFEY and Miss Elizabeth DENNIS will be other features.

Mrs. Sasseen WILSON'S relatives played a great part in the history of Henderson. Her grandfather, General Samuel HOPKINS, aided in platting the town. Her great grandfather, Thomas TOWLES, was one of the territorial judges of Indiana. The SASSEEN homestead near the outskirts of the city was a landmark until destroyed by fire.

State recognition of Mrs. WILSON'S work came this year when acting on a resolution introduced by Senator Edward WALKER, the Kentucky legislature officially acknowledged her efforts. The Woman's Club of Henderson, headed by Mrs. Harry THIXTON, played a great part in this victory.

The Evansville Courier and Journal, Sunday, May 9, 1926


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