05/09/2014 04:31 pm ET Updated Jul 09, 2014

A Mother's Place Is in the House (and Senate)

Sunday marks 100 years since President Woodrow Wilson signed a resolution recognizing Mother's Day as we know it today. What has become synonymous with heartfelt cards, floral bouquets, and brunch buffets, though, actually has deeper, political and feminist roots.

It was women's activism that sparked the day (which has now devolved into another Hallmark holiday, of course). During the Civil War, West Virginian Anna Jarvis organized Mothers' Day Work Clubs to improve health and sanitary conditions. The clubs raised money for medicine, hired women to work for families with sick mothers, and inspected bottled milk and food. According to the National Women's History Project, Jarvis "took the initiative to heal the bitter rifts" between her Confederate and Union neighbors (talk about working across the aisle).

The story goes that Jarvis hoped someone would establish a day to remember mothers, saying "There are many days for men, but none for mothers."

A century ago, it was her daughter who did.

It's true now and it was true then: When it comes to issues affecting women and families, it's so often women who make change. This year, let's honor the passion and compassion of those pioneering women by championing the causes of their modern-day counterparts: Women in office who are supporting mothers -- and all women -- with good, pro-women and pro-family policies.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's Opportunity Plan is one example of that leadership. Her legislation, which I've focused on here before, aims to increase the minimum wage; implement universal pre-kindergarten; make paid family medical leave a reality; ensure equal pay for equal work by finally passing the Paycheck Fairness Act; and expand the child and dependent care tax credit.

Laws like these, requiring paid leave to care for new babies and ailing and aging family members, would disproportionately affect women -- in a good way -- because women are still so often the primary caregivers.

Increasing the minimum wage helps women, too. Consider this: 62 percent of workers making the federal minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, are women, according to a Pew Research analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Women shouldn't have to choose between going to work, paying for childcare, and putting food on the table. With a fair, livable wage, they wouldn't have to (yet, a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 just stalled in Congress).

This Mother's Day, let's celebrate with the same spirit as the women whose activism sparked the holiday in the first place. Let's celebrate by taking action. Support the women around us. Fight for family-focused public policy. Lift up women in office who are writing these policies, and elect more women like them.

A card is nice. Change is better.