We think of Mother’s Day as flowers, cards, luncheon and dinners but Anna Jarvis who founded Mother’s Day to honor her beloved mother, spent the rest of her life fighting the holiday’s commercial and political exploitation.
In 1858, Ann Reeves Jarvis (Anna Jarvis’ mother) organized Mothers’ Day Work Clubs to improve sanitary conditions and stem her community’s appalling infant mortality rates. In her lifetime, Jarvis has 13 children and only saw four of them live to adulthood.
In 1868 in the wake of the Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis (Anna Jarvis’ mother) coordinated a Mothers’ Friendship Day in West Virginia to bring former foes on the battlefield back together again. Veterans from the North and South were weeping and shaking hands for the first time in years.
In 1870 Julia Ward Howe, a mother and another forerunner of modern-day Mother’s Day celebrations, suggests a “Mothers’ Peace Day.” She made a case that war is a preventable evil and mothers have a “sacred right” to protect the lives of their boys.
In 1873 the inaugural celebration of Howe’s “Mothers’ Day” takes place in June.
In 1905 Ms. Jarvis dies on the second Sunday in May.
In 1907 Anna Jarvis, organizes a small service in honor of her deceased mother on the second Sunday in May at the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia. In 1908 the first formal “Mother’s Day” commemoration is marked with another service on the second Sunday in May at the same church in Grafton, and with a much larger ceremony in Philadelphia. Jarvis has white carnations distributed to the mothers, sons and daughters in attendance in Grafton and in 1910 the governor of West Virginia makes Mother’s Day an official holiday on the second Sunday in May.
In 1912 after ragging a relentless letter-writing campaign to drum up support for Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis creates the Mother’s Day International Association and trademarks the phrases “second Sunday in May” and “Mother’s Day.” She wanted Mother’s Day to be a very private acknowledgment of all the mother does for the family.
In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson makes Mother’s Day an official national holiday. Jarvis is gratified by her preferred placement of the apostrophe in “Mother’s Day” — making it singular possessive, not plural possessive, so each family would honor its one and only mother.
In 1915 shortly after the official launch of Mother’s Day, Jarvis begins to sense she’s created a monster when she sees the florist, card and candy industries cashing in on Mother’s Day and public interest groups using the holiday to make political statements. She rails against exploitation of what was supposed to be a special, reverential day for families, so in 1922, Jarvis endorses open boycotts against florists who raise the prices of white carnations every May. In 1923, Jarvis threatens to sue the New York Mother’s Day Committee, of which New York Gov. Al Smith and Mayor John Hylan plan a large Mother’s Day celebration. The event is canceled. In 1925, Jarvis crashes a Philadelphia convention of the American War Mothers, a group that had its own Mother’s Day commemoration and began using a white carnation as its emblem. The American War Mothers push for Jarvis’ arrest, but charges of disorderly conduct are dismissed.
In 1934 a commemorative Mother’s Day stamp was released. Jarvis is slighted when the American War Mothers successfully lobby President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Postmaster General James A. Farley to unveil a Mother’s Day stamp. The stamp features a portrait of painter James McNeill Whistler’s mother with white carnations and the words, “In memory and in honor of the Mothers of America.”
In 1935, Anna Jarvis accuses first lady Eleanor Roosevelt of “crafty plotting” by using Mother’s Day in fundraising material for charities trying to combat high maternal and infant mortality rates.
Sensing that she can’t contain her creation, Jarvis threatens to end it during the 1940s. She is sorry she had ever started Mother’s Day.
In 1944, Jarvis, now 80, is placed in a mental asylum called the Marshall Square Sanitarium and in 1948, Jarvis dies at age 84, alone and penniless from the various legal battles she waged over the holiday she started. She never made any profit from Mother’s Day, and she never had any children.