Anna Jarvis: The Founder of Mother’s Day Who Fought to Have it Abolished


1 - Mother’s Day was commemorated thanks to a relentless and spirited campaign by social activist Anna Jarvis (1864-1948) to make it a national holiday in the US in honor of her mother, Ann Jarvis (1832 – 1905)

2 -Ann Jarvis worked during the American Civil War. She tended to wounded Union and Confederate soldiers. After the war ended in 1865, women planned Mother’s Friendship Day picnics in an effort to bring Union and Confederate loyalists together, urging them to promote peace. Ann Jarvis, who lost nine of her 13 children before they reached adulthood, organized many of the Mother’s Day work club events.

3- When Anna was 12, her mom led a classroom prayer to coincide with a “Mothers of the Bible” lesson:

“I hope that someone, sometime will found a memorial mothers day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.”

The prayer stayed with Jarvis even after her mother’s death in 1905. Her brother Claude reported hearing her say at the funeral, “. . . by the grace of God, you shall have that Mother’s Day.”

4- When Ann Jarvis passed away in 1905, her daughter was devastated. She carefully read the cards and letters of sympathy she received over and over, taking the time to underline all the words that praised and complimented her mother. As an outlet to memorialize her mother, she organized a letter-writing drive aimed at people in positions of power to institute a special day honoring all mothers.

5- Eventually, on May 10, 1908, the first Mother’s Day was observed. Jarvis did not attend the event but sent 500 white carnations, her mother’s favorite flower, to the church where she’d taught Sunday School in West Virginia so the sons and daughters there could wear them and “represent the purity of a mother’s love.” West Virginia became the first state to officially adopt Mother’s Day in 1910.

6- Having the other states follow suit proved to be a bit more challenging, with Jarvis finding herself on the receiving end of mockery by U.S. Senators, who characterized any such day as “puerile,” “absolutely absurd,” and “trifling.” 

7- Nevertheless, Mother’s Day caught on because of Jarvis’s letter writing and promotional campaigns across the country and the world. She enlisted the help of help from wealthy backers like John Wanamaker and H.J. Heinz and organizations like the World’s Sunday School Association, and she soon devoted herself full-time to the promotion of Mother’s Day. The holiday sailed through Congress with little opposition in 1914.

8- It became common for people to acknowledge Mother’s Day by wearing red carnations — to honor living mothers — and white ones for those who had passed. Beginning in the 1920s, greeting card companies and florists realized they had the potential to mine gold, or sell cards and flowers to husbands and children to shower upon their matriarchs. In response to the floral industry, she had thousands of celluloid buttons made featuring the white carnation, which she sent free of charge to women’s, school and church groups. Jarvis filed lawsuits and applied for a trademark to protect the connection between carnations and Mother’s Day.  Jarvis soured on the commercial interests associated with the day.

9- Also infuriating to Jarvis was the idea of pre-printed cards. MentalFloss.com quotes her bitter feelings on the topic: “A maudlin, insincere printed card or ready-made telegram means nothing except that you’re too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone else in the world. Any mother would rather have a line of the worst scribble from her son or daughter than any fancy greeting card.”

10- She was arrested once for disturbing the peace at a Mother’s Day carnation sale at a meeting of the nonprofit group American War Mothers. She also criticized President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, for using Mother’s Day to raise money for charities that worked to combat high maternal and infant mortality rates, even though it was “the very type of work Jarvis’ mother did during her lifetime.”

11-  While dining at the Tea Room at Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia. She saw they were offering a "Mother’s Day Salad." She ordered the salad and when it was served, she stood up, dumped it on the floor, left the money to pay for it, and walked out in a huff. Jarvis had lost control of the holiday she helped create, and she was crushed by her belief that commercialism was destroying Mother’s Day.

12- Her indignation didn’t stop at Mother’s Day, either, with Bernacci saying she also tried to stop the founding of Father’s Day, calling it a “knock-off holiday.”

13- Jarvis was so determined to see Mother’s Day disappear that she spent the latter part of her life going door-to-door in Philadelphia, asking for signatures on a petition to rescind Mother’s Day. In her twilight years, she became a recluse and a hoarder. She died in 1948 in an asylum, the bill for which was partly paid by “a group of grateful florists.” 


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