AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Whether it be Halloween stemming from the Celtic festival of Samhain to Veterans Day evolving from the end of World War I and the memorial ceremonies that followed, every holiday comes with a story.
On Oct. 23, the United States will recognize one that can be traced back to Amarillo, Texas, and a man with both money and an infamous mouth: Mother-In-Law Day.
Eugene “Gene” Alexander Howe was a cofounder of the Amarillo Globe-News, organizer of the Goodfellows in response to Dust Bowl conditions in the Texas Panhandle, a board member of the Texas Game and Fish Commission, sportsman, conservationist, columnist, and generally an iconic figure in the history of the High Plains. Howe first came to Amarillo in 1924 and established the Amarillo Globe as an evening paper, which would merge with the Amarillo Daily News in 1926 to become the Amarillo Globe-News.
As noted by the Texas State Historical Association, Howe and his associates began a daily column after the merge called “The Tactless Texan,” written under the name Kernal E. Rasmus (or Erasmus) Tack and signed as “Old Tack.” Often, the columns aimed at finding homes for stray dogs, naming children, matching couples, and otherwise focused on humor and candid opinions. The column also had a hand in controversies fueled by “Old Tack”s tact-lacking, such as when scathing opinions were published about celebrities like Charles A. Lindbergh and opera star Mary Garden. However, one of the more home-bound controversies caused by the column led to the promotional stunt that created National Mother-In-Law Day.
The TSHA described that Howe marked March 5 as National Mother-In-Law Day to honor his own mother-in-law, Nellie Donald, after she was insulted by one of his “tactless” columns. While the exact column that caused the dispute is unclear, Howe announced the first iteration of a Mother-In-Law Day event on Jan. 23, 1934. The initial event was set for March 5, which Paul Howard Carlson noted in “Amarillo: The Story of a Western Town,” coincided with the annual Amarillo Fat Stock Show celebration.
In his announcement, Howe noted, “It is more than likely that Mother-In-Law Day, which is being started in her Amarillo, will spread over the whole of the United States and the world as has Mother’s Day.”
“And personally, I think mothers-in-law are entitled to as much or more honor than mothers.” Howe continued, “In the first place, to be a mother-in-law, one must first be a mother. A mother-in-law is a successful mother.”
While it may have initially been intended as a smaller local event, Carlson said that the Amarillo Mother-In-Law Day gained national attention after Will Rogers spoke about it on his radio program. Afterward, other radio broadcasters, film studios, and reporters paid the event lip service and sent cameras and journalists to see the festivities.
During the 1934 event, noted Carlson, mothers-in-law registered at the Amarillo Hotel and received corsages, and a high school band led a parade that included 2,000 marchers and 6,000 audience members. During the event’s reception where a range of prizes was awarded, Howe unofficially named Donald, “the stateliest and most beautiful.”
From then onward, the parade grew in bombast and notoriety to the point that Texas Governor James V. Allred made the day an official state event. During the 1938 Mother-In-Law Day festivities, as described by Carlson, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt joined other officials in participating, including five state governors. Amarillo Mayor Ross D. Rogers and Howe presented Roosevelt with “the World’s Largest Bouquet” made up of over 5,000 roses and hoised by a crane. The TSHA noted that the 1938 parade also featured the “world’s largest float” spanning a city block in length and carrying around 590 people, many of whom were mothers-in-law themselves.
Although the specific date for Mother-In-Law Day changed through the decades, newspaper reports in the 1970s tracked the American Society of Florists and Florists’ Transworld Delivery as they, in FTD’s case, aimed to qualify the day as a federal function and otherwise shifted its observance to the last Sunday in October.
While there isn’t much fanfare around Mother-In-Law Day in the present, it still holds a place in the heart and history of the Texas Panhandle, as an opportunity to appreciate often-overlooked relatives, and as a reason to celebrate on a Sunday afternoon.