It was at 15 Regent Street that Constance Penswick Smith (1878-1938) and her friend Ellen Porter, Superintendent of the Girls’ Friendly Society Hostel, tried to re-establish the true Christian celebration of Mothering Sunday, a campaign which was to last for 30 years.
Mothering Sunday originated in the UK, evolving from a time when Christians would visit their ‘mother’ church. This later became a day when domestic workers were given time off. Many would pick flowers for the church and for their mothers. Other traditions included making a simnel cake for Mother. “I’ll to thee a Simnel bring, / Gainst thou go’st a Mothering,” wrote the poet Robert Herrick.
Over the pond, Anna Jarvis was leading a movement that wanted a designated day to celebrate mothers. Jarvis’s ‘Mother’s Day’ would be separated from religion and take place on the second Sunday in May, the time her own mother had died. Backed by the mums’ groups established during the Civil War, President Woodrow Wilson formalised the date in 1914. Mother’s Day was heading for the UK, or was it?
Constance Penswick Smith was outraged and objected immediately to plans for a May Mother’s Day in Britain in addition to our lent time Mothering Sunday. She had previously read of Jarvis’ campaign in America and was primed to respond. Smith founded The Society for the Observance of Mothering Sunday and warned that this would lead to the commercialisation of a meaningful Christian event. Smith wrote a book The Revival of Mothering Sunday in 1920, published to reconnected simnel cakes with other surviving local customs. Her short history of mothering Sunday made a mark. Even today you’ll find many that object to our use of Mother’s Day insisting that it should be Mothering Sunday, and the commercial nature of Mother’s Day remains a bugbear. Even Anna Jarvis bemoaned the commercialisation, disapproving of Mother’s Day cards with printed messages on them, saying, “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”
Smith had arrived in Nottingham at the age of 12, when her father was appointed Vicar of All Saints. She died in 1938, aged 60, continuing to write Mothering Sunday poems and cards until her death. She is buried in Coddington next to her father.
Constance Smith never became a mother, neither did Anna Jarvis. Both women agreed that their original sentiments had been sacrificed for profit.