The Origin of Mother’s Day in Australia

The Origin of Mother’s Day in Australia

Mrs Janet Heyden from Leichhardt, New South Wales is not a name that you’re likely to recognise, but her name goes down in history as the person who introduced gift giving for Mother’s Day.

In 1924, Mrs Heyden was concerned about the lonely, and forgotten mothers in Sydney’s Newington State Hospital when she visited an old friend regularly. So she started a campaign throughout Sydney asking for donations so she could buy presents for these old ladies.

Newspapers took up the appeal helping to spread the word, while she made personal requests to many of Sydney’s leading businesses. The response was incredible with donations ranging from talcum powder and soap, to scarves and mittens, as well as confectionery and fruit gifts.

Janet is quoted as saying “The late Alderman Dyer, who was Mayor of Leichhardt, used to drive me around to the old mothers of the district with my gift parcels. For seven years in succession the appeal through the newspapers made sure that hundreds of mothers who would otherwise have been forgotten received a Mother’s Day gift, today, of course, a gift for mother is just a natural thing.”

Mrs Heyden continued to visit the lonely and forgotten mothers in Newington right up until her death in 1960. It was then her daughter spoke of her mother’s disappointed by the commercialism of Mother’s Day and the loss of it’s original meaning … but she figured that “commercial interest provided publicity which reminded people of the occasion.”

So just to be clear, Janet Heyden, wasn’t the founder of Mother’s Day, as technically it already existed, but it was quite different to what we understand it to be these days.

The credit of the ‘founder’ of Mother’s Day goes to Miss Annie Jarvis from Philadelphia. It was while she was laying a wreath of flowers on her mother’s grave, she came up with the idea that it “would be better to wear a white flower in honour of a living mother than to wait and pay tribute at her grave later on. So in 1908, the 3rd anniversary of her mother’s death, she handed every person in her local church a white flower as they entered”.

Then as the saying goes … it grew from there. And in May 1913 the US Congress declared the second Sunday of May, Mother’s Day, a national day.

So this year as we head to the stores to find mum a present, take a moment to remember the real reason behind Mother’s Day from both Annie Jarvis and Janet Heyden.

For more on the origin of Mother’s Day:
Origin of Mother’s Day, Illawarra Daily Mercury, 24 April 1953
Remember Mrs. Heyden on every Mother’s Day…, The Australian Women’s Weekly, 7 May 1969

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