Although President Woodrow Wilson gets all the credit for putting Mother’s Day on our national holiday calendar 103 years ago in 1914, the day was already being championed nine years earlier by Woman You Should Know Anna Jarvis.
Anna’s mother Ann Reeves Jarvis was a social activist during the American Civil War. Ann organized “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” to improve sanitation and health for both Union and Confederate encampments undergoing a typhoid outbreak. She later created a committee to establish a “Mother’s Friendship Day,” the purpose of which was “to reunite families that had been divided during the Civil War.”
As the story goes, Anna, a doting daughter, got her inspiration for a designated “Mother’s Day” in 1876, as Ann closed one of her Sunday school lessons with this 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. She is entitled to it.”
After Ann’s death in 1905, Anna resolved to honor her mother and her wishes. She began an aggressive campaign to get Mother’s Day established as a U.S. holiday, and took to writing impassioned letters to politicians, businessmen, and religious leaders.
Her tireless work paid off. According to The Columbus Dispatch, “Around the second anniversary of her mother’s passing, Anna Jarvis honored her at a small gathering of friends at her home in Philadelphia. And, on May 10, 1908, Jarvis arranged for 500 white carnations, her mom’s favorite flower, to be handed out in a ceremony at the Grafton, W.Va., church where her mother had taught Sunday school,” marking the first official observance of Mother’s Day.
A year later, forty-five states as well as Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Canada and Mexico observed the day with appropriate services and by wearing carnations to carry on the tradition Anna started. A white carnation was to be worn to honor deceased mothers, and a red one to honor a living mother.
By 1911, Mother’s Day was celebrated in almost every state of the Union. Anna’s final victory came in 1914 when Woodrow Wilson issued a Presidential Proclamation declaring Mother’s Day an official national holiday.
In a thank-you note to President Wilson, Anna wrote of a “great Home Day of our country for sons and daughters to honor their mothers and fathers and homes in a way that will perpetuate family ties and give emphasis to true home life.”
But her elation and pride were short lived. In a sad turn of events, Anna began to sour on Mother’s Day as commercialism slowly eclipsed “her” holiday, as early as the 1920s. It was around the same time that Hallmark started printing cards to commemorate the day.
In response, Anna is reported to have said…
“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 petty sentiment.”
It was ire like this that caused her to spend “her considerable inheritance and the rest of her life fighting” against what had become of a day she intended to be reverential and contemplative.
Anna Jarvis died in 1948, bitter, blind, partially deaf and completely penniless in a Pennsylvania mental institution.