02 April 2014

#3-52ancestors: Wearing of the Roses


Wearing of the Roses

Jo Vanderpool--1955

Mary Jo Vanderpool Grant (1933-2013)

They claim it is a Southern custom — the wearing of a red or white rose to church on Mother’s Day. It might be, because I discovered that some of my Yankee friends have never heard about it.

However, growing up in Oklahoma and Kansas, and being a descendant on my maternal side of a long-line with Deep Southern roots, it was just the thing we did on the second Sunday in May.

Dressed in our pretty, frilly spring dresses (usually brand-new from Easter), we girls wore a fresh rose pinned to our frocks and off we went to church on Mother’s Day.

 I was the one constantly tugging at my white socks because mother had a knack for buying me sock-eating shoes — especially those black patent monsters that also rubbed blisters on my heels.

Jo helping me walk; my cousins, Di and Mita
Mother’s Day as a national holiday in the United States really was not that old when I was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s. It had only been a holiday since 1914. It had all started back in 1908 when a U.S. Senator from Nebraska, Elmer Burkett, proposed making Mother's Day a national holiday at the request of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). The proposal was defeated, but by 1909, there were 46 states holding Mother's Day services as well as parts of Canada and Mexico.

Anna Jarvis, a lady from West Virginia, who wanted to have a national celebration in honor of mothers, endlessly petitioned state governments, business leaders, women groups, churches and other institutions and organizations. She finally convinced the World's Sunday School Association to back her —- a key influence over state legislators and congress. In 1912, West Virginia became the first state to officially recognize Mother's Day and in 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed it into national observance, declaring the second Sunday in May as
Mother's Day.

Of course, I didn’t know any of this history when I was growing up. All I knew is that on the second Sunday in May it was Mother’s Day and we wore roses to church to honor our moms. And, I loved and honored mine even if she did buy me sock-eating shoes.

I think I was about five years old when we went to a Baptist church in another town with my three first cousins that I realized for the first time that all of us girls were wearing red roses except my sister, Jo. She had a white rose. So, of course, I asked why. And, received my first lesson in genealogy.

It was explained to me that my sister’s mother was dead. My mother was her stepmother and that Jo was my half sister. Well, I didn’t like her being only a half sister. She was my sister and I adored her. I had difficulty accepting all those grown-up revelations about the past and how my sister’s mother had died when she was only a year old and that’s why she wore a white rose.

Regardless of what the grown-ups said, it just didn’t seem right to me that sisters should wear different color roses to church on Mother’s Day. After all, mother was our mother!

Years later, when mother died on Mother’s Day in 1991, I thought about the many times we sisters went to church together, wrapped in the warmth of mom’s love even though on Mother’s Day we wore different colored roses. That sweet memory of the wearing of the roses enabled me to smile through my tears.

Long ago I had forgiven my mother for buying me those sock-eating black patent shoes — and we had had some good laughs together remembering those insatiable monsters.

Last April I said a final good-bye to my beloved sister, Jo. This year on Mother's Day, I'll wear two white roses -- one for my mother and one for my sister.


  1. What a tender remembrance, Myra. Though I have Southern roots, I never knew of that custom.

    I was so excited to see your name on Amy Johnson Crow's recap for this week's 52 Ancestors Challenge. I remember seeing your name on those weekly newsletters distributed via email from Rootsweb, pre-dawn of computer-researching history. It was a deja vu moment, and I had to come by and see what you are writing now, in this much-updated format. It's been a long time, but it's nice to reconnect with a key player from the roots of online genealogical resources.

    1. Thank you Jacqi for taking the time to write and read my story. I suspect the rose-wearing tradition has faded out in more recent generations and it might more localized than I am aware of. I grew up mostly in Oklahoma. I hope you are having great success with your research. Don't forget to write the stories.--Myra

  2. I am from NY & I never heard about wearing roses on Mothers' Day. An interesting tradition. Thanks for writing about it.

    1. I appreciate your comments Colleen. I don't how wide spread the custom was. I suspect it was mostly Southern because of the climate and the timing of when roses were in bloom (often by Mother's Day). Today we can obtain roses any time of year, but when I was growing up in Oklahoma, we wore fresh roses out of our gardens.

  3. Your story is very touching, and while in New Zealand where I come from Mothers day is observed on the second Sunday in May, here in England where I live at the moment is it on the last Sunday in March

  4. Hello in England. Dolphin -- do they wear roses in England and New Zealand on Mother's Day? I wonder if this is a tradition unique to certain parts of the United States. Thanks for writing.