By Tom McGehee, Museum Director of the Bellingrath Home
Almost exactly 100 years ago, Walter Bellingrath commemorated Mother’s Day with a heartfelt tribute to his mother, Catherine McMillan Bellingrath. In a six-page letter dated May 13, 1916, Mobile’s first Coca-Cola bottler wrote his mother: “Others may have been blessed with more wealth and worldly goods, but none were ever blessed with purer, Godlier or better parents than we your children. As day after day of the evening of your life slips past, may God grant that each of us prove a greater and greater blessing to you and our fellow man.”
Enclosed with the letter was a reprint of one of the songs he and his wife, Bessie, had sung at church on Mother’s Day. It was entitled, “My Mother, ‘Tis of Thee,” and the tune, of course, was “America” (also known as “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”).
At the time, Mother’s Day was celebrated with many outpourings of sentiment. The holiday was still very new; in 1914, Congress designated the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day, and President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation declaring that Mother’s Day was a day to fly the American flag to honor all those mothers whose sons had been lost to war.
In 1916, Mobile Mayor Pat J. Lyons also issued a proclamation, urging Mobilians to commemorate Mother’s Day “by attendance upon religious services, the wearing of flowers by all persons and the display of flags on all public buildings and in public places.”
The Mobile Church Federation convinced the Mobile Light and Railroad Company to observe the day by stopping every streetcar for a period of three minutes at noon “in order that the conductors and motormen may give this brief period to silent tribute to their mothers.” The federation provided each of the men with a white carnation to wear in his lapel.
One hundred years later, we still celebrate Mother’s Day with flowers and tributes — and at Bellingrath Gardens, with a tradition that the Bellingraths would no doubt enjoy, by welcoming the public to the annual Mother’s Day Evening Garden Concert on Live Oak Plaza.