Ann Jarvis is credited with the creation of Mothers’ Day. She had the idea of setting aside a day to celebrate and educate mothers. The education of women was to be in the art of caring for their children as a way to reduce disease, decrease the infant mortality rate, and in general support women. Details of accounts differ, but it is widely held that she gave birth to nearly 13 of her own children; only 4 of whom lived to adulthood. The others succumbed to various common diseases, specifically, measles, typhoid fever, and diphtheria.


Though disease was truly perpetuated by filth, rats, and a contaminated water supply, there was much mystery and misinformation around how diseases were contracted and spread. Over time, science began to support the idea that lack of adequate sanitation was part of the problem. Around that time, Mrs. Jarvis joined a growing public health movement with a goal to spread the message of sanitation. It was a simple but challenging goal because the problems were multifaceted; the biggest of which was the absence of waste management as a rule.


In the early-19th century it was common practice in more populated or urban areas to throw dead animals, garbage, and slop into the alleyways and streets. However by mid-19th century the mindset was changing and public sanitation practices as a means of improving life within the city limits had begun. Sewers were constructed with waste and storm waters discharging directly into the rivers and streams. Garbage was collected and disposed of by dumping it into nearby streams. This cleared the streets, but also contaminated the waterways. Sadly, in the largest cities the problem was compounded because of early efforts to supply drinking water to citizens.


Cities piped in water from those same waterways; however, it was untreated. And it wasn’t until 1854 that the process of treating water with sand filters and chlorine was largely adopted. Still contamination of the water supply remained an ongoing battle in part because of decentralized systems and processes. Our generarations continue to build upon the theme but use federal statutes in a centralized approach.


The Clean Water Act (CWA) was passed for the express purpose of restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters. 33 U.S .C. § 1251. Its regulatory program focuses on point vs. non-point sources of the contamination. A point source is a distinguishable source from other possible contaminants because it is confined and easy to identify. Conversely, a non-point source could come from any number of sources and is almost impossible to pinpoint, say runoff from storm water or even agriculture. § 1362(14).


Mrs. Jarvis may have battled with both point and non-point source pollution, but we should all take a moment to thank her for her advocacy. It is early attempts like hers that lead to the movements of today. So hats off to Mrs. Jarvis, mothers, and advocates everywhere on this Mothers’ Day.