When her mother died in May of 1905, Anna Jarvis asked the minister at her church in West Virginia to give a special sermon on Sunday in her mother’s memory. The minister obliged with a Mother’s Day service to honor not only the late Mrs. Jarvis but all mothers.
Anna began writing to other churches and to politicians, business leaders, and women’s clubs to promote the idea of setting aside a day to recognize all mothers. She enlisted the support of the World’s Sunday School Association in lobbying state legislators and Congressmen to create a national holiday for mothers.
Anna’s mother had worked tirelessly for the welfare of others. She set up Mothers’ Work Camps before the Civil War to improve the health and sanitary conditions in her town. During the Civil War, she gave aid to the soldiers, whether they were on the Confederate or Union side. After the war, she promoted peace and reconciliation between the North and the South. She was strength and comfort for her family as well.
As a young girl, Anna helped her mother tend the garden, which was full of carnations, her mother’s favorite flowers. In 1908, Anna handed out 500 white carnations to the people at her church. The white carnation became a symbol to honor a deceased mother; the pink carnation is worn in reverence to a living mother.
Also in 1908, a senator from Nebraska named Elmer Burkett proposed the establishment of Mother’s Day at the request of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). The proposal was sent back to its committee with a vote of 33-14.
Finally, in 1914, Congress passed a Joint Resolution to proclaim the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day. President Woodrow Wilson signed the resolution. Mother’s Day has since become a holiday not only in the United States but in other countries as well.
Australia, Denmark, Belgium, Finland, Italy, and Turkey also celebrate Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May. Spain honors all mothers with the Virgin Mary on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. France reserves the last Sunday in May for the celebration of mothers.
Great Britain actually had one of the earliest holidays recognizing mothers, known as Mothering Sunday in the 17th century. On the fourth Sunday of Lent, all servants and apprentices were allowed to go home after church to visit their mothers. They often brought gifts to their mothers, including a “mothering cake” (or fruitcake) and fruit-filled pastries known as simnels. For dinner, families would eat a sweetened, boiled cereal dish called furmety. Mothering Sunday became an obsolete holiday by the 19th century but was revived after World War II, when American soldiers in Britain reintroduced the custom.
Anna Jarvis was distressed when the flower market industry began profiting by the sale of flowers on Mother’s Day. She protested the commercialization of the holiday, even suggesting that those who bought greeting cards were too lazy to write their own meaningful letters or notes. At the end of her life, she was still disheartened by the mass marketing of Mother’s Day. Nevertheless, it was her love for her own mother which gave birth to a day on which we can all, in great or small ways, pay tribute to the women who made us who we are.
Happy Mother’s Day!
For more information, please visit //womenshistory.about.com/library/weekly/aa020506a.htm.