A man loves his sweetheart the most, his wife the best, but his mother the longest. Irish Proverb
Mother’s day in the US became an official holiday in 1914, so this year we celebrate 100 years of Mother’s day. Many people still believe it was created by Hallmark as one of their commercial ideas, but actually it was established by a West Virginian woman as a day to honor motherhood.
The roots of the modern American Mother’s Day date back to the 19th century. In the years before the Civil War (1861-65), Ann Reeves Jarvis of West Virginiahelped start “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” to teach local women how to properly care for their children. These clubs later became a unifying force in a region of the country still divided over the Civil War. In 1868 Jarvis organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” at which mothers gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote reconciliation.
The official Mother’s Day holiday arose in the 1900s as a result of the efforts of Anna Jarvis, daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis. Following her mother’s death in 1905, Anna Jarvis conceived of Mother’s Day as a way of honoring her own mother, as well as the sacrifices all mothers made for their children. In May, 1908 she organized the first official Mother’s Day celebration at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia.
Following the success of her first Mother’s Day, Jarvis—who remained unmarried and childless her whole life—resolved to see her holiday added to the national calendar. Arguing that American holidays were biased toward male achievements, she started a massive letter writing campaign to newspapers and prominent politicians urging the adoption of a special day honoring motherhood. By 1912 many states, towns and churches had adopted Mother’s Day as an annual holiday, and Jarvis had established the Mother’s Day International Association to help promote her cause. Her persistence paid off in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
Anna Jarvis had originally conceived of Mother’s Day as a day of personal celebration between mothers and families. Her version of the day involved wearing a white carnation as a badge and visiting one’s mother or attending church services. But once Mother’s Day became a national holiday, it was not long before florists, card companies and other merchants capitalized on its popularity.
While Jarvis had initially worked with the floral industry to help raise Mother’s Day’s profile, by 1920 she had become disgusted with how the holiday had been commercialized. She outwardly denounced the transformation and urged people to stop buying Mother’s Day flowers, cards and candies. Jarvis eventually resorted to an open campaign against Mother’s Day profiteers, speaking out against confectioners, florists and even charities. She also launched countless lawsuits against groups that had used the name “Mother’s Day,” eventually spending most of her personal wealth in legal fees. By the time of her death in 1948 Jarvis had disowned the holiday altogether, and even actively lobbied (unsuccessfully) the government to see it removed from the American calendar.
Jarvis’ holiday was eventually adopted by other countries and cultures around the world. The day is most often recognized on the second Sunday in May or in some countries the date was changed to fit already existing celebrations honoring motherhood. In keeping with tradition, each person offers a gift, card, flowers or remembrance toward their mothers, grandmothers, and/ or maternal figure on mother’s day. It is not related to the many celebrations of mothers and motherhood that have occurred throughout the world over thousands of years, such as the Roman festival of Hilaria, or the Christian Mothering Sunday celebration (originally a celebration of the mother church, not motherhood).
Happy Mother’s Day!