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Why the Founder of Mother’s Day Turned Against It

Why the Founder of Mother’s Day Turned Against It



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Anna Jarvis, who had no children of her own, conceived of Mother’s Day as an occasion for honoring the sacrifices individual mothers made for their children.

In May 1908, she organized the first official Mother’s Day events at a church in her hometown of Grafton, West Virginia, as well as at a Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia, where she lived at the time. Jarvis then began writing letters to newspapers and politicians pushing for the adoption of Mother’s Day as an official holiday.

By 1912, many other churches, towns and states were holding Mother’s Day celebrations, and Jarvis had established the Mother’s Day International Association. Her hard-fought campaign paid off in 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

Jarvis’ conceived of of Mother’s Day as an intimate occasion—a son or daughter honoring the mother they knew and loved—and not a celebration of all mothers. For this reason, she always stressed the singular “Mother’s” rather than the plural. She soon grew disillusioned, as Mother’s Day almost immediately became centered on the buying and giving of printed cards, flowers, candies and other gifts.

Seeking to regain control of the holiday she founded, Jarvis began openly campaigning against those who profited from Mother’s Day, including confectioners, florists and other retailers. She launched numerous lawsuits against groups using the name Mother’s Day, and eventually spent much of her sizable inheritance on legal fees.

In 1925, when an organization called the American War Mothers used Mother’s Day as an occasion for fundraising and selling carnations, Jarvis crashed their convention in Philadelphia and was arrested for disturbing the peace. Later, she even attacked First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for using Mother’s Day as an occasion to raise money for charity. By the 1940s, Jarvis had disowned the holiday altogether, and even actively lobbied the government to see it removed from the calendar.

Her efforts were to no avail, however, as Mother’s Day had taken on a life of its own as a commercial goldmine. Largely destitute, and unable to profit from the massively successful holiday she founded, Jarvis died in 1948 in Philadelphia’s Marshall Square Sanitarium.

The sad history of Mother’s Day founder Anna Jarvis has done nothing to slow down the popularity—and commercialism—of the holiday. According to an annual spending survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, Americans spent an average of $168.94 on Mother’s Day in 2013, a whopping 11 percent increase from 2012.

In total, Mother’s Day spending exceeds $20 billion each year, according to the National Retail Foundation. In addition to the more traditional gifts (ranging from cards, flowers and candy to clothing and jewelry), one survey showed that an unprecedented 14.1 percent of gift-givers plan to buy their moms high-tech gadgets like smartphones and tablets.

READ MORE: How George Washington's Iron-Willed Single Mom Taught Him Honor


3 Historical Arguments Against Mother's Day

C ampaigning against Mother’s Day is a surefire way to sound like a grouch &mdash but that didn’t stop Anna Jarvis.

That’s because if anyone could get away with it, she could. After all, Jarvis invented the whole thing, and then it ballooned far beyond what she had been imagining. As TIME wrote in 1938, it was May of 1907 when Jarvis persuaded a church in her hometown, Philadelphia, to hold a special church service on the anniversary of her mother’s death. The next year the governors of Florida and North Dakota issued special proclamations inspired by the service and it went national in 1914 when President Wilson made one, too. It wasn’t long before businesspeople across the country figured the day could be a great way to sell the nation on flowers, cards and other tokens. Jarvis, the article explained, was not amused:

Anna Jarvis is the 60-year-old Philadelphia spinster who invented Mother&rsquos Day. Whenever she thinks of what the flower shops, the candy stores, the telegraph companies have done with her idea, she is disgusted. She has even incorporated Mother&rsquos Day to help keep unscrupulous florists and confectioners from using her patented trademark for commercial purposes. But &ldquonobody,&rdquo she says, &ldquopays any attention to law any more.&rdquo

Once she was arrested for disorderly conduct for interrupting a Philadelphia meeting of American War Mothers, whom she accused of profiteering on Mother&rsquos Day carnations. In 1934 she kept James Aloysius Farley from putting &ldquoMother&rsquos Day&rdquo on his special 3¢ Whistler&rsquos Mother stamp, which she said was just another racket. Last week on Mother&rsquos Day she contented herself with denouncing a Manhattan &ldquoMother&rsquos Peace Day&rdquo parade and a &ldquoParents&rsquo Day&rdquo meeting in Central Park. (One of her current slogans is &ldquoDon&rsquot Kick Mother out of Mother&rsquos Day.&rdquo) Then she dedicated an eternal light to the Mothers of America and went to a service in her honor at the Church of the Saviour.

It didn’t stop there. TIME reported that Jarvis sent violent telegrams to President Roosevelt and mostly shut herself inside her house&ndashemerging only to hand out flyers about the evils of commercializing Mother’s Day.

But rampant commerce wasn’t the only objection to the way Mother’s Day was celebrated. In that same TIME story, Eleanor Roosevelt urged that Mother’s Day also be turned into a public awareness event about the maternal mortality rate, which was 14,000 deaths a year at the time. That idea was an echo of an earlier campaign by physiologist Thomas Wilcox Haggard, who in 1934 reminded the world that “lives of mothers can be saved only by facing gruesome realities, not by holding out the promise of a potted plant.”

And finally, history has seen its fair share of those who believe that Mother’s Day is all well and good, but doesn’t go far enough. In 1950, TIME wrote about Miss Dorothy Babb, an advocate for a National Old Maids’ Day. “Many spinsters, she pointed out, don&rsquot even get birthday gifts, so eager are they to avoid the subject of age,” the magazine reported. In the 󈨊s, that cry was picked up by the National Organization for Non-Parents, which advocated for Non-Mother’s Day to be a holiday.

Read the whole 1938 story about Mother’s Day and Anna Jarvis, here in the TIME Vault:Mother’s Day, Inc.


Mother's Day Turns 100: Its Surprisingly Dark History

As Mother's Day turns 100 this year, it's known mostly as a time for brunches, gifts, cards, and general outpourings of love and appreciation.

But the holiday has more somber roots: It was founded for mourning women to remember fallen soldiers and work for peace. And when the holiday went commercial, its greatest champion, Anna Jarvis, gave everything to fight it, dying penniless and broken in a sanitarium.

It all started in the 1850s, when West Virginia women's organizer Ann Reeves Jarvis—Anna's mother—held Mother's Day work clubs to improve sanitary conditions and try to lower infant mortality by fighting disease and curbing milk contamination, according to historian Katharine Antolini of West Virginia Wesleyan College. The groups also tended wounded soldiers from both sides during the U.S. Civil War from 1861 to 1865.

In the postwar years Jarvis and other women organized Mother's Friendship Day picnics and other events as pacifist strategies to unite former foes. Julia Ward Howe, for one—best known as the composer of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"—issued a widely read "Mother's Day Proclamation" in 1870, calling for women to take an active political role in promoting peace.

Around the same time, Jarvis had initiated a Mother's Friendship Day for Union and Confederate loyalists across her state. But it was her daughter Anna who was most responsible for what we call Mother's Day—and who would spend most of her later life fighting what it had become.

"Mother's Day," Not "Mothers' Day"

Anna Jarvis never had children of her own, but the 1905 death of her own mother inspired her to organize the first Mother's Day observances in 1908.

On May 10 of that year, families gathered at events in Jarvis's hometown of Grafton, West Virginia—at a church now renamed the International Mother's Day Shrine—as well as in Philadelphia, where Jarvis lived at the time, and in several other cities.

Largely through Jarvis's efforts, Mother's Day came to be observed in a growing number of cities and states until U.S. President Woodrow Wilson officially set aside the second Sunday in May in 1914 for the holiday. (See pictures of animal mothers and babies.)

"For Jarvis it was a day where you'd go home to spend time with your mother and thank her for all that she did," West Virginia Wesleyan's Antolini, who wrote "Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Defense of Her Mother's Day" as her Ph.D. dissertation, said in a previous interview.

"It wasn't to celebrate all mothers. It was to celebrate the best mother you've ever known—your mother—as a son or a daughter." That's why Jarvis stressed the singular "Mother's Day," rather than the plural "Mothers' Day," Antolini explained.

But Jarvis's success soon turned to failure, at least in her own eyes.

Anna Jarvis's idea of an intimate Mother's Day quickly became a commercial gold mine centering on the buying and giving of flowers, candies, and greeting cards—a development that deeply disturbed Jarvis. She set about dedicating herself and her sizable inheritance to returning Mother's Day to its reverent roots. (See National Geographic's pictures of motherly love.)

Jarvis incorporated herself as the Mother's Day International Association and tried to retain some control of the holiday. She organized boycotts, threatened lawsuits, and even attacked First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for using Mother's Day to raise funds for charities.

"In 1923 she crashed a convention of confectioners in Philadelphia," Antolini said.

A similar protest followed two years later. "The American War Mothers, which still exists, used Mother's Day for fund-raising and sold carnations every year," Antolini said. "Anna resented that, so she crashed their 1925 convention in Philadelphia and was actually arrested for disturbing the peace."

Jarvis's fervent attempts to reform Mother's Day continued until at least the early 1940s. In 1948 she died at 84 in Philadelphia's Marshall Square Sanitarium.

"This woman, who died penniless in a sanitarium in a state of dementia, was a woman who could have profited from Mother's Day if she wanted to," Antolini said.

"But she railed against those who did, and it cost her everything, financially and physically."

Mother's Day Gifts Today: Brunch, Bouquets, Bling

Today, of course, Mother's Day continues to roll on as an engine of consumerism.

According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend an average of $162.94 on mom this year, down from a survey high of $168.94 last year. Total spending is expected to reach $19.9 billion. The U.S. National Restaurant Association reports that Mother's Day is the year's most popular holiday for dining out.

As for Mother's Day being a hallmark holiday, there's no denying it, strictly speaking.

Hallmark Cards itself, which sold its first Mother's Day cards in the early 1920s, reports that Mother's Day is the number three holiday for card exchange in the United States, behind Christmas and Valentine's Day—another apparent affront to the memory of the mother of Mother's Day.

About 133 million Mother's Day cards are exchanged annually, according to Hallmark. After Christmas, it's the second most popular holiday for giving gifts. (See "Father's Day at 100: How It Began, Why Dad Gets Fewer Gifts.")

The holiday Anna Jarvis launched has spread around much of the world, though it's celebrated with varying enthusiasm, in various ways, and on various days—though more often than not on the second Sunday in May.

In much of the Arab world, Mother's Day is on March 21, which happens to loosely coincide with the start of spring. In Panama the day is celebrated on December 8, when the Catholic Church honors perhaps the most famous of mothers, the Virgin Mary. In Thailand mothers are honored on August 12, the birthday of Queen Sirikit, who has reigned since 1956 and is considered by many to be a mother to all Thais.

Britain's centuries-old Mothering Sunday, the fourth Sunday of the Christian period of Lent, began as a spring Sunday designated for people to visit their area's main cathedral, or mother church, rather than their local parish.

Mothering Sunday church travel led to family reunions, which in turn led to Britain's version of Mother's Day.


Why Mother's Day Horrified, Ruined Its Own Mother

Born of war, Mother's Day went big-time—and broke its mother's heart.

Before the brunches, before the gifts and greeting cards, Mother's Day—today honored with perhaps the ultimate Internet accolade, a Google doodle—was a time for mourning women to remember fallen soldiers and work for peace.

When the holiday went commercial, its greatest champion gave everything to fight it, dying penniless and broken in a sanitarium. Of course, Mother's Day marched on without her and is today celebrated, in various forms, on a global scale.

As early as the 1850s, West Virginia women's organizer Ann Reeves Jarvis held Mother's Day work clubs to improve sanitary conditions and try to lower infant mortality by fighting disease and curbing contaminated milk, according to historian Katharine Antolini of West Virginia Wesleyan College.

The groups also tended wounded soldiers of both sides during the U.S. Civil War from 1861 to 1865, she added.

In the postwar years Jarvis and other women organized Mother's Friendship Day picnics and other events as pacifist events uniting former foes. Julia Ward Howe, for one—best known as the composer of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"—issued a widely read "Mother's Day Proclamation" in 1870, calling for women to take an active political role in promoting peace.

Around the same time, Jarvis had initiated a Mothers' Friendship Day for Union and Confederate loyalists across her state. But it was her daughter Anna who was most responsible for what we call Mother's Day—and who would spend most of her later life fighting what it had become.

"Mother's Day," Not "Mothers' Day"

Moved by the 1905 death of her own mother, Anna Jarvis, who never married or had children of her own, was the driving force behind the first Mother's Day observances in 1908.

On May 10 of that year, families gathered at events in Jarvis's hometown of Grafton, West Virginia—at a church now renamed the International Mother's Day Shrine—as well as in Philadelphia, where Jarvis lived at the time, and in several other cities.

Largely through Jarvis's efforts, Mother's Day was observed in a growing number of cities and states until U.S. President Woodrow Wilson officially set aside the second Sunday in May in 1914.

"For Jarvis it was a day where you'd go home to spend time with your mother and thank her for all that she did," said West Virginia Wesleyan's Antolini, who wrote "Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Defense of Her Mother's Day" as her Ph.D. dissertation.

"It wasn't to celebrate all mothers. It was to celebrate the best mother you've ever known—your mother—as a son or a daughter." That's why Jarvis stressed the singular "Mother's Day," rather than the plural "Mothers' Day," Antolini explained.

But Jarvis's success soon turned to failure—at least in her own eyes.

Anna Jarvis's idea of an intimate Mother's Day quickly became a commercial gold mine centering on the buying and giving of flowers, candies, and greeting cards—a development which deeply disturbed Jarvis. She set about dedicating herself and her sizable inheritance to returning Mother's Day to its reverent roots.

Jarvis incorporated herself as the Mother's Day International Association and tried to retain some control of the holiday. She organized boycotts, threatened lawsuits, and even attacked First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for using Mother's Day to raise funds for charities.

"In 1923 she crashed a convention of confectioners in Philadelphia," Antolini said.

A similar protest followed two years later. "The American War Mothers, which still exists, used Mother's Day for fundraising and sold carnations every year," Antolini said. "Anna resented that, so she crashed their 1925 convention in Philadelphia and was actually arrested for disturbing the peace."

Jarvis's fervent attempts to reform Mother's Day continued until at least the early 1940s. In 1948 she died at 84 in Philadelphia's Marshall Square Sanitarium.

"This woman, who died penniless, in a sanitarium in a state of dementia, was a woman who could have profited from Mother's Day if she wanted to," Antolini said.

"But she railed against those who did, and it cost her everything, financially and physically."

Mother's Day Gifts Today: Brunch, Bouquets, Bling

Today, of course, Mother's Day continues to roll on as an engine of consumerism. And Anna Jarvis, one might imagine, continues rolling in her grave.

In the U.S. alone, Mother's Day 2011 spending will reach $16.3 billion—with the average adult spending more than $140 dollars on gifts, the National Retail Federation estimates.

Two-thirds of Americans celebrating Mother's Day will treat their mothers to flowers, the federation reports, and more than 30 percent of the surveyed celebrants plan to give their mothers gifts of jewelry.

The U.S. National Restaurant Association reports that Mother's Day is the year's most popular holiday for dining out. Some 75 million U.S. adults are expected to do just that today, the association says.

As for Mother's Day being a Hallmark holiday, there's no denying it, strictly speaking.

Hallmark Cards itself, which sold its first Mother's Day cards in the early 1920s, reports that Mother's Day is the number three holiday for card exchange in the United States, behind Christmas and Valentine's Day—another apparent affront to the mother of Mother's Day.

"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," Jarvis once said, according to the book Women Who Made a Difference.

"And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment."

The holiday Anna Jarvis launched has spread around much of the world, though it's celebrated with varying enthusiasm, in various ways, and on various days—though more often than not on the second Sunday in May.

In much of the Arab world, Mother's Day is on March 21, which happens to loosely coincide with the start of spring. In Panama the day is celebrated on December 8, when the Catholic Church honors another famous mother, the Virgin Mary. In Thailand mothers are honored on August 12, the birthday of Queen Sirikit, who has reigned since 1956 and is considered by many to be a mother to all Thais.

Britain's centuries-old Mothering Sunday, the fourth Sunday of the Christian period of Lent, began as a spring Sunday designated for people to visit their area's main cathedral, or mother church, rather than their local parish.

Mothering Sunday church travel led to family reunions, which in turn led to Britain's version of Mother's Day.


Sticking to the original intent

Even knowing the history of Mother's Day, with all of its twists and turns, doesn't make it perfectly clear how to best celebrate in the way that's most true to its roots.

"It depends what route you want to go," notes Antolini. "I think what makes Mother's Day successful is that there’s a duality to it: It’s celebrating motherhood, but I think there's room for you to determine how, and room for it to be a social movement."

Some ways to go in that direction could be volunteering — at a shelter for women and children, for example, or by taking part in the Mother's Day Virtual Run/Walk, benefiting the Wings Program to help those affected by domestic violence or by perusing the needs of your community on Volunteer Match.

You could also make a Mother's Day donation to one of many organizations that focus on mothers: Single Mothers Outreach, offering free support to single moms around issues such as housing and job assistance Every Mother Counts, supporting equitable maternity care in communities around the world the Hunger Project, empowering women in global communities to end hunger the National Partnership for Women and Families, working to advance policies supportive reproductive rights and economic justice the Women's Prison Association, empowering women and families in the face of incarceration and Parents as Teachers, supporting families for optimal early development of their children.

"There are a lot of examples of people using [Mother's Day] as a way to be proactive," says Antolini. "You can go either way. It can just be a simple homecoming, where you go home and thank her for everything. Or it can be a day for women to come together as mothers and say, 'Hey what do we need to do to protect children and make society safer for our families?'" Although, she admits, a bit predictably, "Anna wouldn't like that – she didn’t trust charities. She always said it shouldn't be a day where mothers are pitied. It should be a day of unconditional gratitude." As for which way you'll opt to go? That's for you — and mom — to decide.

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How The Founder Of Mother's Day Ended Up In A Sanitarium Paid For By Greeting Card And Flower Companies

The commercialization of holidays isn't anything new, and it's certainly a subject that arises every Christmas, but did you know Mother's Day has its own commercialization controversy?

Anna Jarvis, the woman credited with founding Mother's Day and helping it become a national holiday on May 9, 1914, ended up in a sanitarium where greeting card and flower company representatives paid her bill. It was because of her tireless efforts that President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation declaring Mother's Day a national holiday. It was her efforts to get Mother's Day's status as a holiday repealed that many believe she ended up in a sanitarium where she died broke and blind.

A very happy Mother's Day to all, and recognition for its founder, Anna Jarvis. pic.twitter.com/ZrbmMty3uL

&mdash Frances Willard (@FrancesWillard) May 9, 2016

It was Anna's mother, Ann, who refused to take sides during the Civil War and opened her home as a hospitable place to help wounded soldiers on both sides. Ann Jarvis believed that mothers were the key to initiating peace. She had seen first hand the ravages of war as it devastated families and destroyed husbands and sons. Ann Jarvis believed that women across the United States could join together and initiate peace. She organized many women's movements and clubs geared towards mothers and had started the Mother's Day of Peace shortly before her death.

Though Ann Jarvis died before seeing Mother's Day a national holiday, her daughter Anna vowed to take up the cause. She sent letters, contacted officials, delivered speeches and ultimately proved invaluable in getting legislation passed to make Mother's Day a national holiday. According to a report by Buzzfeed, Anna Jarvis wasn't just the founder of Mother's Day, but she wanted to own and control the holiday as well.

Simply put, Anna Jarvis didn't like the commercial aspect the holiday was taking. Candy retailers, flower companies, and even Hallmark began making a pretty penny after demand for Mother's Day cards became common.

Jarvis felt people needed to write letters, give mom a day off and find ways to honor their mother for her hard work. The idea that people couldn't write a heartfelt letter of thanks and appreciation, but needed to buy a card made her livid. As Mother's Day became more commercialized, Anna Jarvis fought harder to stop it. Watch the Transit TV teacher explain Jarvis' hatred for the holiday she created in the video below.


Lifestyle The ultimate Mother’s Day gift idea guide

Mother’s Day in Australia falls on Sunday, 9 May, 2021.

It’s traditionally celebrated on the second Sunday in May and was first celebrated in Australia in 1910, according to the National Library of Australia.

“Australia celebrated “Mother’s Day” yesterday for the first time,” reads an excerpt from The Leader and Orange Stock and Station News in 1910.

“At special services held in Sydney white carnations were worn,” it continued.


Mother’s Day Gifts

While it began as a political antiwar effort and a celebration of moms, Mother’s Day quickly became a “Hallmark Holiday” — the company released its first Mother’s Day cards in the 1920s.

According to a New York Times article from 1923, Anna Jarvis resented that the day she had intended to devote to mothers became “a means of profiteering.” Though she initially worked with the floral industry to help raise the holiday’s profile, she denounced its commercialization, urging people not to buy flowers, cards, and candies.

She went so far as to protest a confectioner’s convention in 1925 and was arrested for disturbing the peace.

Jarvis fought for full credit for founding Mother’s Day, a battle that consumed much of her time and money and eventually left her poor, blind, and living in a sanitarium at the end of her life. She died in 1948 at 84 years old.

“This woman, who died penniless in a sanitarium in a state of dementia, was a woman who could have profited from Mother’s Day if she wanted to,” according to historian Katharine Antolini of West Virginia Wesleyan College.

“But she railed against those who did, and it cost her everything, financially and physically.”

Today, about 133 million Mother’s Day cards are exchanged each year (more than any holiday besides Christmas and Valentine’s Day) and the day generates more than $20 billion in consumer spending in the U.S. alone, according to an annual survey by the National Retail Federation.


Remembering Anna Jarvis, the Woman Behind Mother's Day

Mother's Day founder Anna Jarvis worked tirelessly on behalf of the holiday she founded &mdash and then, later, against it.

Few people had as complicated a relationship with Mother’s Day as Anna Jarvis did with the holiday.

Despite her tireless campaign to get the holiday recognized by the United States government, Jarvis ended up denouncing the institution she created, bankrupting herself as she fought against its perceived commercialization. How did that happen?

The roots of Mother’s Day — at least Jarvis’s involvement — date back to the 1850s. Her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, organized work clubs of mothers in their home state of West Virginia for a variety of causes. When the Civil War broke out, Jarvis senior shifted the focus of the groups from fighting infant mortality (by pushing for more sanitary conditions in women and children’s medical treatments) to tending to wounded soldiers (on both sides).

In 1868, Jarvis senior initiated what she termed Mother’s Friendship Day to try and breach the enmity between Union and Confederate loyalist mothers in West Virginia, which coincided with the efforts of one Julia Ward Howe (who wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”) to prod women into a more active peacekeeping role in politics with a “Mother’s Day Proclamation” that she issued in 1870.

Fast forward to 1905, when Anna Jarvis’s mother died. Anna did not take it well she re-read all sympathy cards and letters sent to her, underlining phrases that were especially complimentary of Ann. The dates surrounding Jarvis’s first Mother’s Day celebration are somewhat fuzzy: The New York Times pegged Jarvis’s campaign as starting in 1907, while other sources put the date at May 10 or 12, 1908. The settings, though, have remained consistent: A Methodist church in the Jarvis hometown of Grafton, West Virginia and the Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Anna had since settled. (One of her early backers was John Wanamaker. Another was H.J. Heinz.)

Jarvis didn’t attend the first Mother’s Day in West Virginia, instead devoting her time to the Philadelphia, event, but she inaugurated one of the holiday’s traditions from afar by sending 500 white carnations — Ann’s favorite flower — home to West Virginia. The flower became the holiday’s symbol: “The carnation does not drop its petals, but hugs them to its heart as it dies, and so, too, mothers hug their children to their hearts, their mother love never dying,” Jarvis explained in a 1927 interview.

Jarvis made rapid progress: By 1910, West Virginia became the first state to adopt the holiday. (Just the year prior, several U.S. Senators had dismissed the idea of the holiday, calling it — among other things — “puerile,” �surd” and “trifling.”) In 1914, the measure to establish Mother’s Day as the second Sunday in May passed Congress and was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson.

RELATED VIDEO: What Hoda Kotb’s Mom Taught Her is the Same Thing She Wants to Pass on to Daughter Haley Joy

𠇏or Jarvis, [Mother’s Day] was a day where you𠆝 go home to spend time with your mother and thank her for all that she did,” West Virginia Wesleyan historian Katharine Antolini told National Geographic.

“It wasn’t to celebrate all mothers. It was to celebrate the best mother you’ve ever known — your mother — as a son or a daughter. That’s why Jarvis stressed the singular ‘Mother’s Day,’ rather than the plural ‘Mothers’ Day,’ ” Antolini explained.

For her relatively rapid success in achieving her goal, Jarvis never relaxed her guard. She incorporated herself as the Mother’s Day International Association and defended the 𠇌opyright” zealously against people she thought were diluting the holiday’s meaning. Those people primarily turned out to the floral, greeting card and candy industries, which didn’t deter Jarvis: She once angrily turned down a commission on the sales of Mother’s Day carnations from the Florist Telegraph Delivery. This may have proved shortsighted — Jarvis was quickly burning through her coffers defending Mother’s Day.

Jarvis didn’t limit her efforts to the courtroom, either. Frank Herinm, a former football coach and faculty member at University of Notre Dame (whose idea for a “Mother’s Day” actually predated Jarvis’s‘) was the target of a 1920s statement she wrote called “Kidnapping Mother’s Day: Will You Be an Accomplice?” She organized boycotts and personally protested the efforts of people she accused of diluting Mother’s Day’s message. In 1923, she crashed a confectioner’s convention around in Philadelphia, in 1925, she took on the American War Mothers, who were using Mother’s Day carnation sales to raise money for the war effort. That year, she was actually arrested for disturbing the peace at the AWM’s convention. In 1934, she even came after the Postal Service for issuing a Mother’s Day stamp featuring the painting popularly known as “Whistler’s Mother” by James Whistler. By 1944, a Newsweek article reported she had 33 Mother’s Day-related lawsuits going at once.


US Mother's Day 2020: how the campaign was won – and why the woman behind it turned against her work

Anna Jarvis created the celebration of motherhood, but why did she later resent the US holiday?

Mother's Day in the United States, or Mom's Day as it is sometimes known, is an annual holiday celebrating mothers, motherhood and maternal bonds in general, as well as the positive contributions they make to society in raising their children.

While Britons celebrated Mother's Day on March 22, the US occasion takes place every year on the second Sunday of May. This year it falls on Sunday, May 10.

But when did the US celebration of Mother's Day begin and how did it encourage the revival of Mothering Sunday in the UK? Here is everything you need to know about the American celebration of motherly figures.

How did US Mother's Day begin?

It was American social activist Anna Jarvis (1864-1948) from West Virginia who campaigned for an official day for mothers in the US. She is regarded as the "Mother of Mother's Day" and dedicated her life to lobbying for the holiday. She vowed to do so after her mother, Ann's, death, which fell on May 9 1905.

Ann Jarvis, who died in 1905, was a peace activist during the American Civil War and cared for soldiers from both sides of the conflict. She also set up Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address public health issues. It was this work that her daughter Anna wanted to continue by starting a day especially for mothers.

Jarvis had to fight hard to be heard as during the 1900s women's rights had not yet progressed enough for her to be taken seriously. She found it difficult to gain support in a male-dominated society.

But a breakthrough came on May 8, 1908 when she helped arrange the first ever Mother's Day service at Andrew's Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, which was attended by 407 children and their mothers. The church is now known as the International Mother’s Day Shrine and has been designated a historic landmark.

Although US Congress rejected her bid to make the day a national holiday in 1908, by 1911 people in all US states had started celebrating the day. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May to be 'Mother's Day', to honour the day Anna Jarvis' mother died.

As the years passed, it became increasingly commercial and industries saw it as a way to make money from the public. Jarvis became concerned at this, saying "I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit."

She also didn't like the selling of flowers and the use of greetings cards which she described as "a poor excuse for a letter you are too lazy to write". She organised boycotts of Mother's Day and threatened lawsuits against companies involved, eventually being arrested for protesting at a Mother's Day carnation sale by the American War Mothers.

Mothering Sunday in Britain

In Britain the day is known as Mothering Sunday. Originating as a religious occasion much earlier than US Mother's Day, the UK celebration is always on the fourth Sunday of Lent, exactly three weeks before Easter Sunday and usually in the second half of March or early April.

From the 16th century, it was custom for people to return home to their families and their ‘mother’ church on Laetare Sunday – the middle of Lent. Those who did so were said to have gone "a-mothering".

The day soon became a holiday event, when young domestic servants were given a day off work to return home and visit their mothers and "mother" churches.

While the religious celebration was significant for many years, by the early 1900s it began to decline, following the Americanisation of Mother's Day.

But the day later took off again in Britain when vicar's daughter Constance Smith was inspired by a 1913 newspaper report of Jarvis' campaign and began a push for the day to be officially marked in England.

Smith, of Coddington, Nottinghamshire, founded the Mothering Sunday Movement and even wrote a booklet The Revival of Mothering Sunday in 1920. Interestingly, neither Smith nor Jarvis became mothers themselves.

By 1938 Mothering Sunday had become a significant celebration with Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and various parishes across Britain marking the day and communities adopting the imported traditions of American and Canadian soldiers during the war.

By the 1950s it was celebrated throughout Britain much the same as US Mother's Day and businesses realised the commercial opportunities, leading to the card and flower-heavy version of the day we celebrate today.

Is it Mother’s Day or Mothers' Day?

Armchair linguists tend to disagree on whether the apostrophe in Mother's Day should come before or after the "s". Those who argue it should fall after the "s" say the day is a celebration of all mothers and the punctuation should reflect that.

However, Anna Jarvis trademarked the term "Mother's Day" – with the apostrophe before the "s" – in 1912, saying the word should "be a singular possessive, for each family to honour its own mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world".

President Woodrow Wilson used this spelling when he announced the day in 1914 this means the correct version of the word is spelled with the apostrophe before the 's'.

Mother's Day around the world

As the years passed, Jarvis's Mother's Day was adopted in countries all over the world. The majority of countries celebrate the occasion on the same day as Americans, including Japan, Italy, Germany, Greece, Canada, Australia, South Africa, India and China.

In many countries, including the US and Australia, it is custom to wear a carnation on the day. A colourful carnation signifies that a person's mother is living while a white carnation is used to honour a deceased mother.

Many other nations also celebrate mothers, but at different times of the year. In Norway, Mother's Day is always on the second Sunday of February, while in Thailand it's on August 12 – the same day as the Queen of Thailand's birthday.

Several countries, including Afghanistan, Belarus, Vietnam, Romania and Kosovo, celebrate the occasion on International Women's Day, which falls on March 8 every year.


Anna Jarvis, The Creator of Mother's Day, Died Hating The Holiday She Created

Mother’s Day is just around the corner, which means you’re probably scrambling to buy your mom a gift as a small token of your appreciation for all she’s done for you.

Held annually on the second Sunday in May, this holiday is often associated with bouquets and breakfast in bed, even expensive jewelry. But the modern motifs of a wholesome holiday are a relatively new concept. In fact, the creator of the holiday, Anna Jarvis, sought to abolish the holiday she created, initially established to be devoted to love and appreciation, since it turned into a capitalist frenzy. Arguably, today’s iteration of Mother’s Day is a shell of its original self, with specific promotions being offered as a way to make money for corporations.

Jarvis’s mission to found Mother’s Day stemmed from a desire to pay tribute to her late mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis.

“Anna remembered, as a young girl, hearing her mother often repeat a simple prayer: ‘I hope and pray that someone, some time, will found a memorial mother’s day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.’ The holiday’s design was thus a tribute to Mrs. Jarvis,” says Katharine Antolini, Wesleyan assistant professor and author of the book Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Struggle for Control of Mother’s Day.

Anna decided the holiday should be celebrated on the second Sunday in May because it was the date closest to the anniversary of her mother’s death in 1905, Antolini explains. The first official observance of Mother’s Day took place on the morning of May 10, 1908, at the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Graton, West Virginia, where 400 people showed up to honor the mothers in their lives. On the same day, another 15,000 people would participate in the first Mother’s Day in Philadelphia. For 70 minutes, Anna spoke at the Wanamaker Auditorium as part of the celebration.

The next year, the number of celebrants climbed as communities across the nation hosted Mother’s Day services.

“It was obvious to [Anna] that the country’s sons and daughters possessed a ‘mother-hunger in their hearts’ and craved such a day of maternal tribute,” Antolili says. “She, therefore, resolved to devote her life to the holiday’s perpetuation.”
It would take several years, but in 1914, Anna’s life’s work was realized when President Woodrow Wilson declared Mother’s Day an official holiday after the passing of a congressional resolution.

In addition to the day of observance, Anna encouraged people who could not visit their mothers to write letters expressing their gratitude and even designated the white carnation, her mother’s favorite flower, as the official emblem of the holiday, according to Antolini.

“The carnation does not drop its petals when it dies,” Antolini says. “Instead it ‘hugs them to its heart,’ described Jarvis, just as ‘mothers hug their children to their hearts, their mother love never dying.”

Despite these well-considered details, Antolini explains that the mother-centric holiday Anna created was not the one her mother had envisioned in her prayer. While both wanted to honor women for their service as mothers, they differed on how to commemorate them and on what it means to be a mother.

The elder Jarvis was inspired by her work with the Mothers’ Day Work Clubs and, to her, maternal influence reached far outside the traditional domestic areas to “serve humanity.” Antolini explains that Mrs. Jarvis imagined a maternal celebration that included “civic leadership and service mothers united in public works to empower themselves and help to empower others.”
Her daughter, however, approached appreciating motherhood differently — from a daughter’s perspective. According to Antolini, Anna had no children and lived with her siblings.

“Instead of a day reserved exclusively for mothers in celebration of their maternal influence, as envisioned by Mrs. Jarvis, Anna designed a day reserved for ‘sons and daughters to honor themselves by showing gratitude to the [mother] who watched over them with tender care in childhood days,” Antolini says.

The difference, according to Antolini, is in the celebration of mothers’ collective power (Mothers’ Day) and “the impressive breadth of their maternal role,” and a singular event (Mother’s Day) celebrating a sentimental image of motherhood defined by children. While Mrs. Jarvis wanted mothers to have “an active role in their own tribute,” her daughter’s national holiday ultimately reduces a mother to a “passive figure of praise.”

While Anna Jarvis had a different vision for the holiday than her mother, as the years passed, her own hopes for Mother’s Day were distorted by commercialism. As industries capitalized on the day’s marketability, Anna became increasingly distressed about the use of her holiday as a money-making venture. She wanted the holiday to be a “holy day.”

“Despite her calls to the nation to adopt her holiday, Anna considered it her intellectual and legal property, and not part of the public domain,” Antolini explains. “Never did she intend for the observance to become the ‘burdensome, wasteful, expensive gift-day,’ as other holidays had become by the early 20th century.”

Protective of what she viewed as her intellectual property, Antolini says a 1944 Newsweek article alleged that Anna once had 33 lawsuits pending at one time and included disclaimers on a Mother’s Day International Association press release threatening legal action against people who used the holiday names and emblems without permission. To further her dominion over the now-commercialized holiday, Anna copyrighted her own photo, incorporated herself as “Mother’s Day International Association” and even verbally attacked first lady Eleanor Roosevelt for using “her” holiday to raise money for charity.

Meanwhile, Anna Jarvis’s Mother’s Day wasn’t the only celebration dedicated to mothers during this time. Writer, abolitionist, and suffragist Julia Ward Howe established “Mothers’ Peace Day” in 1872, according to Antolini. She says the non-official holiday was celebrated on June 2 yearly until 1913, and was originally established after the Civil War for mothers who had lost their sons. Anna’s Mother’s Day would eventually replace this celebration, which was primarily acknowledged by peace organizations.

In Indiana, a man named Frank Hering was gaining credit as the “Father of Mother’s Day”, according to Antolini, for his “public plea for a nationwide observance of a Mother’s Day” in 1904. Hering, a former University of Notre Dame football coach, promoted his idea through his association with the Fraternal Order of the Eagles, though he did not provide information about when to observe this holiday, despite wanting it to be on a Sunday,” Antolini says.

“It was not Hering who pushed for states to make it a state holiday or responsible for the day becoming a national and international celebration. so Anna hated it when he got credit,” Antolini explains. “She also believed that he was financially profiting from the day just to line his own pockets and advance his own political career.”

Ultimately, as the 111th anniversary of Jarvis’s holiday comes to pass, the holiday has transformed into a celebration of mothers outside the typical sphere of domestication. In the 21st century, women are recognized to be more than caregivers — they’re individuals with careers, passions, and interests outside of family.

The emphasis on commercialization has increased tremendously since the holiday’s inception, with an expected $25 billion to be spent this year alone, a nearly $2 billion increase from 2018. While increased spending was not the intent of either Anna or her mother, people around the world continue to shower their mothers with love and affection, and honor their memory in ways that feel right for them, and that is what’s most important.


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