Midtown Raleigh News

Celebration of Mother’s Day co-founder kicks off with tea party at Historic Oakwood Cemetery

As co-founder of Mother’s Day, former Raleigh resident Madeline Procter had very firm ideas about how her four children should celebrate.

No gifts. No fancy cards. Don’t spend money.

A heartfelt note is all you need, she told them.

Procter’s descendants, including a few of her children, will gather at her grave in Historic Oakwood Cemetery at 3 p.m. this Mother’s Day for a tea party to honor her memory and kick off a tour of the gravesites of other famous mothers buried there.

Last week, staff writer Chelsea Kellner talked to two of Madeline’s children, Marriott Procter Little and Doris Procter Bason, about the event, the importance of a holiday devoted to moms and their mother’s enduring legacy in their lives. The sisters grew up in Raleigh.

Responses have been edited for length.

Q: How was your mother involved in founding Mother’s Day?

Marriott: She grew up in Philadelphia, and went to look for a job as a secretary. When she walked in, the story I remember hearing is that the man in charge said, “Would you go to work for my sister Anna (Jarvis), who is starting Mother’s Day?” This would have been in 1909.

My understanding is that she worked as her only assistant for 10 years. The first thing they did was stand on street corners the second Sunday in May in Philadelphia with washtubs, one filled with red carnations and one filled with white carnations. They would stop people on the street and say, if your mother is living, write her a letter, even if she is living in the same house, telling her how much you appreciate and love her, and wear a red carnation. If your mother is dead, wear a white carnation.

Q: Did she face any challenges helping get it started?

Marriott: Her biggest challenge was when anybody tried to commercialize it. This was anathema to Anna Jarvis. She didn’t want anybody to make money off of it, only to write a letter to their mother, not buy gifts and that sort of thing. We never did that growing up, we always just wrote Mother a love note. I usually wrote her a poem.

Q: Was making Mother’s Day a holiday something your mother was passionate about on her own?

Marriott: Knowing Mother, she would have been passionate about it no matter who her mentor was. The most important thing in life to her was motherhood.

Doris: But if someone ignored Mother’s Day, it didn’t bother her a bit. She took us as we were, and she required almost nothing from us. Not many people can love unconditionally, but she could.

Q: What was it like growing up with a mom who helped start Mother’s Day?

Marriott: We heard about it every year. She would go to our schools and talk about it. Lots and lots of Raleigh people grew up knowing about mother. It got so people thought Mother started it, but she was Jarvis’ assistant. We grew up knowing it was so important. What she brought from it to her own life was unconditional love, and loving being a mother and grandmother.

Q: What are your own Mother’s Days like now?

Marriott: When my children were at home, they would always fix me breakfast in bed, every year. Then it occurred to me, they were having so much fun laughing and carrying on downstairs, and here I was up in bed by myself having Mother’s Day breakfast. After that, I said, I want to join you guys. I still have lots of their beautiful poems they wrote me on their cards.

Q: Why did you decide to invite the public to join you for the event at Oakwood Cemetery?

Marriott: We had no idea about it at first, but we chose to participate because we’ll do anything to honor Mother. She was so special.

Doris: Mother would have appreciated it, but she never would have sought it. I’m looking forward to it.

Q: Did your mom pass on any mothering advice to you?

Doris: Lots and lots and lots, but almost none in words. I think all of us and our children have benefitted from what she was, rather than what she told us to do. I just tried to be as good a mother as she was.