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How Mother’s Day Began – It’s Much More Than a “Hallmark” Holiday

By Dian Brannen, 1:26 pm on

I was racking my brain trying to decide what to blog about this week.  Vitamin D deficiency? Maybe.  Cholesterol and egg yolks? Not today.  Stress and aging? No.  None of my ideas were screaming write about me, write about me!  So, having sat in front of the computer for 20 minutes with nothing yet typed I decided to write about Vitamin D Deficiency, it is an interesting topic!

Then, while taking a break before I dove in, I had a conversation with my husband about a conversation he had with a mutual friend who told his mother that Mothers’ Day was a fake holiday made up by the gift card industry and he was not going to fight traffic this weekend to come see her.  I asked my husband, “Well, you do know the real story of Mother’s Day don’t you?’  As the words were falling out of my mouth  the light bulb suddenly appeared above my head!!!  I’ll write about Mother’s Day (and yes, I know that it is Mothers’ Day but I’ll tell you why I made it singular possessive later).  Not many people may know the real story behind Mother’s Day and a story it is!

I researched the true story of Mother’s Day many years ago because of the personal connection I have with Anna Jarvis the “Founder of Mother’s Day” and have grown very fond of telling Anna’s story which starts for me during visits to my grandmother’s house…..

My father was born in Philippi, West Virginia.  As a little girl, we would visit Philippi, and my grandmother’s house.  My grandmother loved to show us all the family treasures.  Old letters and photos, small knick-knacks and books.  My favorite of her treasured possessions was an old red velvet autograph book and in this book was an autograph , the same autograph that I had seen a dozen times.  It was the signature of Anna Jarvis.  Anna Jarvis as my grandmother would tell me once again was the “Founder ” of Mothers’ Day!  Anna had been a friend of her mothers, my great grandmother.  I remember being so impressed and intrigued by this autograph and telling my friends back home, who seemed much less impressed, that my great grandmother knew the woman who started Mother’s Day!!!  To me she was some rock star!  How could one person start a holiday that became one of the most special days of the year!

So in my search to find out more about this woman, Anna Jarvis I came across the true story of mother’s day and inspirational yet sad story it is.  So, here goes!

Anna Jarvis started what is now the present day Mother’s Day in 1907 three years after the death of her mother Ann Reeves Jarvis.  Anna was inspired as young a young girl during one of her Sunday school lessons taught by her mother Ann in 1876 as Ann (her mother), closed the lesson with a prayer, stating,

I hope and pray 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. – Anna Reeves Jarvis

Keeping her word,  the first “unofficial” Mother’s Day was held with a small service on May 12, 1907 in the Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, where Anna’s mother had been a Sunday school teacher .  The first “official” service was on May 10, 1908, in the same church, accompanied by a larger ceremony Philadelphia.  The next year the day was reported to be widely celebrated in New York.

Anna campaigned effortlessly to get Mother’s Day recognized as a National Holiday.  On May 8,1914 her efforts paid off when the U.S. Congress passed a law designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day and President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it a National Holiday.

Anna had envisioned Mother’s Day to be a day for children to honor their mothers and all that she does with special homemade cards, gifts and sentiments.  It was to be a day to honor one’s own mother not all mother’s everywhere hence the singular positive, Mother’s Day.  Anna having work so hard to get a day designated for mothers, just as her own mother had prayed for, was disillusioned by the rapid commercialization of the holiday which changed her initial vision of a sentimental holiday dedicated to one’s own mother.  Anna deplored the commercialization of Mother’s Day by greeting card companies, florist and candy makers and had wanted nothing to do with making money off the day.

Only nine years after the first official Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis herself became a major opponent of what the holiday had become.  Never marrying or having children of her own she spent all of her inheritance and the rest of her life fighting what she saw as an abuse of the celebration.  In one account I had read, she died penniless and in a cruel twist of fate the Hallmark brothers paid for her burial expenses.

Now, the story of Anna Jarvis amazing.  She was a woman ahead of her time (she in the early 1900’s worked will finish this sentence later) and so resolved in her convictions that she would eventually be arrested for protesting the commercialization of mothers’ Day, loose all her money and end up spending the end of her life alone and in a sanatorium.  But the truly amazing story is that of her mother Anna Reese Jarvis. More on her soon!