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The fascinating, ironic story behind Mother’s Day

Anna Jarvis was not impressed by the commercialization of a day she thought should become a national holiday.
Anna Jarvis was not impressed by the commercialization of a day she thought should become a national holiday.

Anna Jarvis was an unwed, childless woman who created Mother’s Day, then set out to ban it

You’ll never buy another Mother’s Day card, flowers or chocolates without at least a rueful smile after reading this story.

This is the story of how the unwed, childless mother of Mother’s Day officially gave birth to the day of recognition and then dedicated the rest of her life to killing it.

In 1907, Anna Jarvis, an insurance clerk from West Virginia, was inspired by the great humanitarian deeds of her own mother, Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, to create a day of rest for everyday mothers from their non-stop routine of cleaning, cooking, washing, sewing and raising kids.

When her mother died, on May 9, 1905, the second Sunday in May, Jarvis vowed to honour her mother’s dream of creating a special day dedicated to unrecognized mothers everywhere.

Two years later, Jarvis launched her tireless campaign to establish Mother’s Day.

She wrote hundreds of letters to businessmen, legislators, and executives across the country and around the world. She even bought the house next door to hers just to store her massive correspondence.

She then met and collaborated with the founder of Wanamaker’s department store, John Wanamaker, who had the skills and means to spread her message and turn it into a day recognized not only across the United States but also in Canada and Mexico.

Many legislators supported the movement, which was more feel-good and less politically-charged than addressing the corresponding Suffragette movement.

Jarvis gained so much momentum American president Woodrow Wilson issued a national resolution that the second Sunday in May would be recognized as Mother’s Day on May 8, 1914.

Greeting card companies, flower shops and candy makers quickly descended on the opportunity to capitalize on Jarvis’ and mothers’ hard work.

Initially tolerant of practical gifts for mothers, those that would provide rest and comfort, like chairs and mattresses, Jarvis could not endorse the rapid commercialization of a day she felt should have been venerated as a holy day.

She spent the rest of her life fighting just as tirelessly to cancel it. She made many enemies in her pursuit and went as far as to trademark the white carnation, which she once adopted as a symbol, the words Mother’s Day, and the phrase second Sunday in May. However, her trademark became unenforceable once the day became an international holiday.

According to Wikipedia, Jarvis famously admonished society: "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. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.”

She was also arrested and sent to jail in 1932 for a public escapade involving white carnations.

As her health declined, Anna Jarvis was moved into the Marshall Square Sanitarium in West Chester, PA, in 1944. In a tragically ironic endnote, part of her bill was paid for by a group called the Floral Exchange. She received thousands of mother’s day cards every day until her death November 24, 1948.

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