The Untold Story of Mother’s Day

Mother's Day

By GEORGE NAVA TRUE II / Content Editor

The world celebrates Mother’s Day tomorrow, but not everyone knows the untold story of this popular holiday. Behind this joyous occasion is the sad tale of its founder who tried to stop the celebration when she was 79 years old. That’s because Anna Marie Jarvis was disappointed in the way that the famous holiday was commercialized.

She was mad that her efforts to honor her beloved mom and other hardworking mothers were exploited and used as an excuse to sell chocolates, flowers, and greeting cards.

Mother's Day
Anna Marie Jarvis

Too Lazy to Write

“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 (your) mother – and then eat most of it yourself,” she said.

At first, Jarvis tried to fight the companies that made money from her love of her mother and motherhood in general. She organized boycotts of the celebration and threatened to sue the persons involved.

She believed that people could show how much they loved their mothers by writing letters expressing their sincere thanks rather than buying gifts or cards. But her efforts to stop the tide of commercialism were in vain and she lived in poverty even as others profited from her work.

Inspiring Words

Jarvis first got the idea for Mother’s Day in 1876 while attending one of the Sunday school lessons of her mom. At the end of her class, social activist Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis prayed that someone would celebrate a day for mothers in the future for all the hard work that they have done. Those words resonated in Jarvis’ head and she never forgot them.

After graduating from college, Jarvis became an active church member like her mom in Grafton, West Virginia. She later moved with her brother to Philadelphia where she was the first female literary and advertising editor of an insurance company.

Mother's Day

In spite of the distance, she continued writing to her mother and remained close to her. When her father died in 1902, Jarvis convinced her mom to move to Philadelphia. The elder Jarvis joined her daughter in 1904, but the reunion didn’t last. On May 9, 1905, Jarvis’ mother succumbed to heart disease.

Following the death of her mother, Jarvis worked hard to make Mother’s Day an official holiday in the United States. She wanted to preserve the memory of her mother who cared for wounded soldiers during the American Civil War.

First Official Celebration

In 1908, Jarvis held a memorial ceremony for her mom at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton. This is considered the first official celebration of Mother’s Day in what is known today as the International Mother’s Day Shrine. Jarvis sent the attendees 500 white carnations to symbolize the truth, purity, and broadness of a mother’s love.

By 1911, due to Jarvis’ efforts, all US states had recognized Mother’s Day. The second Sunday of May was later designated as Mother’s Day by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914.

Sadly, commercialism crept in. The floral industry took advantage of this and started raising the prices of white carnations during the holiday. It later introduced red carnations to honor living mothers. Greeting card and candy companies did the same and came up with their own ways to profit from Jarvis’ sentiments.

Jarvis tried to oppose these moves, but this led to her own economic downfall. In 1943, she worked to stop the observance of Mother’s Day at the age of 79, but her declining health wouldn’t allow it.

She spent the remaining years of her life at the Marshall Square Sanitarium in Pennsylvania until her death in 1948. Her only consolation was that her medical bills were paid by people from the floral and greeting card industries.


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