Henderson County, Kentucky Personalities

Mary Towles Sasseen


On the second Sunday in May, for several years past, the people of the United States have been observing as Mother's Day. The question is frequently asked, “How, Why and When This Event?” It is my purpose in this writing to answer these three questions propounded and to answer them truthfully.

I want in what I say to be as brief as possible and at the same time to avoid any seeming egotism in using my name in this connection. I am simply a witness and state facts in the case in such a manner as not to be misunderstood. I shall write what I know and what I know to be the truth in every particular. I shall write as an impartial historian.

It was some time in the summer in the latter part of the 1880s, (I am not positive as to the exact year, as I kept no memorandum of the occurrence.) The Kentucky Education Association met that year in the city of Louisville. I was a member of that body and afterward was twice elected as its president.

On my way to Louisville, I went by the way of Henderson. Miss Mary Towles SASSEEN, a prominent member of that organization boarded the train and took a seat by my side. We were seated but a short time when she outlined to me a plan she thought out in regard to originating what is now called or known as Mother's Day. I was delighted with the idea and unhesitatingly endorsed her plan and further agreed to assist her in bringing the plan before the teachers of the state of Kentucky.

Miss SASSEEN had drawn up a tentative plan, which was submitted to the Association for consideration. With others, I made a short talk endorsing her paper and asked that same be adopted as a sense of the meeting. The vote was unanimous. So far as any history previous to that time, or for many years thereafter, there is no record looking to the establishing a Mother's Day celebration. I shall further on prove my position.

Miss SASSEEN had suggested that Mother's Day be observed either on the 20 th of April, or the Sunday 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 SASSEN. 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 grand daughter 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 of 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, Librarian Henderson Public Library, Henderson, Ky., for name of woman who got a day established as Mother's Day, also the date.

“To meet the request of Miss Susan S. TOWLES the following are noted:

“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., 1916.)

“U.S. Congress 6rd, Washington, 1914 House: Mr. HEFLIN Joint Resolution 263, Passed Signed: Presented to President, May 7, 1914 v. 51: 3233.”

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 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 Mother's 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.

The Daily Messenger, Madisonville, Kentucky, Tuesday, June 7, 1927

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