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Celebrating Mothers with Primary Sources

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This post is by Rebecca Newland, the 2013-2015 Library of Congress Teacher in Residence.

It Is Mothers Day in the USA
It Is Mothers Day in the USA

In the United States, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday of May, this year, May 10th. This is not just a day to celebrate our mothers, but also a time to think about all women who care for, support, and strengthen us. Below are a few suggestions for engaging students with primary sources related to mothers and Mother’s Day from the collections of the Library of Congress.

Offer the song “It’s Mother’s Day in the USA.” Both the cover and the lyrics offer opportunities for analysis. Select questions from the Analyzing Sheet Music and Song Sheets teacher’s guide to prompt students’ analysis. Deepen the conversation about the context of the song by asking:

  • When do you think this song was written? What clues do you see in the song?
  • In what way does the cover of the sheet music relate to Mother’s Day?
  • How do the lyrics reflect the time the song was written?

Another approach to discussing Mother’s Day is in depictions of mothers. Perhaps one of the most iconic photographs of a mother was created in 1936 by Dorothea Lange in California. Ask students to reflect on why this particular photograph is so striking to viewers. Compare it to other photographs of the same subjects and other migrant mothers and children.

Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California. Dorothea Lange, 1936.
Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California. Dorothea Lange, 1936.

President Coolidge and Mother Jones, 1924.
President Coolidge and Mother Jones, 1924.

Next, consider those for whom “Mother” is an honorific. Display this photograph of Mother Jones and President Calvin Coolidge. After an analysis of the photograph, engage students by asking what caused U.S. district attorney Reece Blizzard to allegedly label her “the most dangerous woman in America?” This may be an opportunity to encourage investigation into Mother Jones and her work in the labor movement. One possible question to focus the investigation: In what ways can her influence be seen in today’s labor policies?

For information on the origins of Mother’s Day, explore articles available from Chronicling America.

How do these views of mothers connect to those we have today?





    I really love the mission of this blog. Educating our children and awakening their intellectual curiosity is so important. I figured I’d share this blog post to complement yours.
    Keep up the good work!

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