This coming Sunday many people all over the nation will celebrate their mothers. While each family has a unique way of honoring mom, there is no denying that Mother’s Day is a day when “Mother knows best!”
I wondered if 19th century Iowa farm mothers were honored on Mother’s Day the way that our mothers are today. My first thought was to consult Sarah Gillespie Huftalen’s Diary. Sarah and her mother shared a very close relationship as is evident in both Sarah’s and Emily’s (Hawley-Gillespie) diaries. Throughout the diary you can read of the different experiences that mother and daughter shared. They do everything from berrying (August 3, 1884) to painting the buggy (April 30, 1886). Both of them seemed to have a very strained relationship with James Gillespie (Emily’s husband and Sarah’s father), which led to a closeness in part perhaps due to the isolation of the farm. Throughout the journal there is no special mention of mother’s day, just different things that Sarah did to help her mother. This includes admonishments about the way James treats her mother. At one point in May 1882 (Sarah is 16) she writes in her diary, “Ma’s head has ached all day, and she grows old too fast if she can only live through it and see a score or two of bright sunny years of life I may thank the good Lord with all my heart.(p.59)” At several points, Emily even writes in Sarah’s diary for her when she is ill. The diaries of these two Iowa women attest to the strength of them and Iowa farm women. Sarah’s diary spans from 1873-1952 and Emily’s from 1858-1888.
The editor notes in the introduction a bit about Sarah’s love for her mother. In the pages of Sarah’s diary, tucked away was a newspaper clipping of a poem. Entitled “Mother’s Love” and written in the nineteenth century style, it is attributed only to D.W. As the editor shared it with her readers, I would like to share it with you. It can be found on pages 13-14 of “All Will Yet Be Well.”
“Mother’s Love” by D.W.
No love like the love of a mother,
When trials are gathering fast –
Though fond is the care of a brother,
Sometimes it will fail at the last.
Should you turn from the pathway of duty,
A sister’s affections may fade;
But mother-love shows its best beauty,
When her child to sin is betrayed.
A father may speak stern and coldly,
If his son has wandered astray;
But mother will stand forward boldly
And help him regain the lost way.
And speak to him kindly, in warning,
With just as tender a tone
As she did in childhood’s pure morning,
Ere sorrow and crime he had known.
Ah, no! There’s no love like a mother’s,
So noble forgiving and true;
We may trust it to many another’s
And value it, that it is new,
To find, when life’s sun is shrouded,
And our pathway enters the gloom,
Their love for us, too, will be clouded,
While hers follows us to the tomb.
You can tell by the fact that Sarah took the time to cut this poem out, and by the grief in her own words at the death of her mother, that Sarah loved her mother very much, and she didn’t need a special day to demonstrate that love.
We will celebrate Mother’s Day on Saturday, May 12 with a Victorian Garden Party at the Flynn house at 11:00 am.
In the mean time, be thankful that you and your mom don’t have to paint the buggy, and try not to give her too many headaches. Happy Mother’s Day to all!