The modern holiday of Mother’s Day was first celebrated in 1908 by Anna Jarvis when she held a memorial for her mother at St. Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. She wanted to honor her mother by setting aside a day to honor all mothers because she believed a mother is “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”
Jarvis likely got the idea for Mother’s Day from her mother. In 1876, she heard her mother recite the following prayer: “I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother’s day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life,” and that’s likely when the seed for Mother’s Day was planted.
After gaining financial assistance from a Philadelphia businessman and department store owner named John Wanamaker in May 1908, Jarvis organized the first official Mother’s Day celebration at her church in Grafton. That same day thousands of people also attended a Mother’s Day event at one of Wanamaker’s retail stores in Philadelphia. The store did great business and it’s likely is where the commercialization of the day began.
Following the success of her first Mother’s Day celebration, Jarvis aimed to see her holiday added to the national calendar. She started a massive letter-writing campaign to newspapers and government officials urging them to adopt a day honoring mothers. She argued that there were many holidays focusing on men but very few focusing on women.
By 1912, many cities, states, and churches had adopted Mother’s Day as an annual holiday, and Jarvis created the Mother’s Day International Association to help promote Mother’s Day across the country. All of her hard work paid off in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation establishing the second Sunday each May as Mother’s Day.
Jarvis created Mother’s Day to be a day of family celebration and reflection. However, it wasn’t long before florists, gift companies, card companies. etc. began profiting off of the newly established holiday. By 1920, she had become disgusted with the commercialization of the holiday and urged people to stop buying Mother’s Day gifts, flowers, cards, etc. She eventually created an all-out campaign berating companies, and even charities, that she felt were profiting off of the holiday. She called charities she felt were profiting off the holiday, “Christian pirates.”
She wrote, “to have Mother’s Day the burdensome, wasteful, expensive gift day that Christmas and other special days have become, is not our pleasure…… If the American people are not willing to protect Mother’s Day from the hordes of money schemers that would overwhelm it with their schemes, then we shall cease having a Mother’s Day—and we know how.” She also wrote, “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 even wrote a warning on Mother’s Day International Association press releases that said, “Any charity, institution, hospital, organization, or business using Mother’s Day names, work, emblem, or celebration for getting money, making sales or on printed forms should be held as imposters by proper authorities, and reported to this association.”
She went through most of her life savings suing these companies and charities and even unsuccessfully lobbied the government to have the holiday removed from the calendar. The author of the book, Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Struggle for Control of Mother’s Day, Katharine Lane Antolini, says it’s difficult to determine exactly how litigious Jarvis was, but a 1944 Newsweek article reported that she once had as many as 33 simultaneously lawsuits open related to Mother’s Day.
Jarvis never profited off of Mother’s Day, despite the opportunity for her to do so. She went broke fighting the commercialization of the day and died penniless in poor physical and emotional health at the age of 84 in 1948.
- The first thing a baby can vocalize is the ‘ma’ sound, which is why in almost every language the word for mother begins with an ‘M.”
- There are more calls made on Mother’s Day than any other day of the year.
- The white carnation was the favorite flower of Jarvis’s mother and it became the original flower of Mother’s Day.
- Mother’s Day is the busiest day of the year for restaurants.
- The most popular gift for Mother’s Day is a greeting card.
- NationalGeographic.com – 7 Things You Don’t Know About Mother’s Day’s Dark History
- Time.com – The Surprisingly Sad Origins of Mother’s Day
- TownAndCountryMag.com – 20 Mother’s Day Facts to Share With Your Mom