A 19th Century Lobbiest, An Arrest, And The Birth Of Mother's Day
Anna Marie Jarvis lobbied for more than a decade to have her nation remember mothers, in honor of her own mother’s wishes. Then, she fought to end it.
At the end of the 19th century, her mother, Ann Jarvis, had founded Mothers’ Day Work Clubs in five cities to help improve sanitary and health conditions for mothers and their children.
The club women also treated the wounds of both Union and Confederate soldiers, and fed and clothed them with neutrality.
Her mother once ended a Sunday school session with this prayer:
I hope that someone, sometime will found a memorial Mother’s Day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.
On May 12, 1907, two years after her mother’s death, Anna, who grew up in West Virginia and never had children of her own, held a celebration in her mother’s memory and asked that people wear carnations to remember all mothers. Her intent had also been for children on Mother’s Day to handwrite personal notes.
Jarvis’s campaign for a national holiday succeeded in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson established it and Congress designated the second Sunday in May as “Mother’s Day.”
But by the early 1920s, florists had capitalized on the day and begun marketing carnations. And greeting-card companies began selling Mother’s Day cards. Jarvis detested the commercialism of what the day had become.
With her sister Ellsinore, they spent their family inheritance fighting the day’s designation. Jarvis incorporated herself as the Mother’s Day International Association and trademarked the phrases “second Sunday in May” and “Mother’s Day.”
After Jarvis crashed a 1925 confectioners convention in Philadelphia, she was arrested for disturbing the peace. It didn’t stop her. She spent the rest of her life, into the 1940s, trying to end Mother’s Day. And she died penniless doing it. Anna Jarvis, in her New York Times obituary, was quoted as saying:
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 Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.
Despite Jarvis’ efforts, the day still flourishes as a big one for retail. Jarvis, aside from selling carnations, never tried to profit from it. On this Mother’s Day, the average American will have spent $152 dollars, which is up from $140 last year, for a total of $18.6 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.
And carnations, suggested by Anna Jarvis in 1907 on the day she first recognized her own mother, are still one of the most popular flowers to give on Mother’s Day.