"Mother" of mother's day celebrated on walk through Downtown Henderson

"Mother" of mother's day celebrated on walk through Downtown Henderson

Mary Towles Sasseen could say almost anything in life with a smile.

Maddy Fritz adopted that attitude as she spoke to a group of people on a walking tour to hear about Sasseen, a Henderson woman who organized the first public observance of Mother's Day in the United States in 1887.

Dressed up like Sasseen, Fritz told the group on the walking tour Saturday morning that, "I was a teacher and the first teacher I ever had was my mother. She taught me how to shine my shoes, stand up straight and mind my manners."

Despite having to speak over a loud leaf blower across the road on Main Street, Fritz never truly broke character, asking the man with the leaf blower to be a, "Little louder, please," with a smile on her face.

This is something Sasseen herself might have done, said historian Frank Nally, who led about 20 people on the Depot Community Room's walking tour through Downtown Henderson.

This was the first Henderson walking tour for Ron and Vickie Mitchell of Lexington. The couple accompanied their friends Chuck and Donna Stinnett, whom they were in town visiting.

"It was really well done," said Ron Mitchell. "I'm not generally a student of history, but I really liked it a lot. It had just the right amount of information, but didn't overdo it and totally dull us with too much information."

Charlene Welch brought along family friend Dalynna Main, a student at South Heights Elementary.

"I thought this would be a good tour for her to attend," said Welch, who used to work at the Depot Community Room and was already familiar with Sasseen's story.

Sasseen was born along the Henderson riverfront on March 5, 1860 to a prominent family.

Nally said the exact location of her family's home is unknown, but was likely somewhere in the Towles subdivision, which was named after her grandfather, Judge Thomas Towles. Her great-grandfather was Gen. Samuel Hopkins, who helped establish Henderson County.

While she was a teacher at the old Center Street School, located where Independence Bank is now on Center Street, Sasseen oversaw the first observance of Mother's Day at the school in April 1887.

Her vision for Mother's Day was to have parents come to the school and see children recite poems that would honor mothers. Sasseen promoted Mother's Day wherever she traveled in the country. She also published a "Mother's Day Celebration" pamphlet in 1893, a year before her own mother died.

Ironically, Sasseen died at age 46 while giving birth in Florida, where she was living with her husband Judge William Marshall Wilson. The baby, her only child, also died.

Sasseen is buried in Fernwood Cemetery. She has no living descendants.

Six years after Sasseen's death, President Woodrow Wilson declared Mother's Day a national holiday.

Sasseen's cousin, longtime Henderson librarian Susan Towles, desired to put out a historical outline book in the 1920s, Nally said. She wrote a letter to Anna Jarvis, who is widely credited as the founder of Mother's Day.

Jarvis was annoyed by the letter and stated "no dead woman did anything to promote Mother's Day." She also told Towles she was disbarred from celebrating the holiday.

Towles wrote an article for L & N Magazine about how her cousin founded Mother's Day. Jarvis threatened a lawsuit against the city of Henderson and L & N Railroad.

However, the story was never retracted and no successful lawsuit was ever brought by Jarvis against Henderson regarding claims about founding Mother's Day, Nally said.

A copy of Sasseen's book is available for purchase in the Depot Community Room for $5.

This was the first of seven free tours hosted by the Depot Community Room on the first Saturday of each month. Upcoming free tours will be held: 

 

  • May 6: Riverwalk (return transportation provided)
  • June 3: Historical African-American Business District
  • July 1: Tobacco History (an indoor presentation)
  • Aug. 5: Taste of Henderson
  • Sept. 2: Audubon Sculpture Tour
  • Nov. 4: Henderson’s Military History

Special event tours with tickets required include:

 

  • Sept.  16: Fernwood Cemetery
  • Oct. 7: Gangster Pub Crawl
  • Oct. 28: Spooks and Legends