Have you ever thought of where Mother’s Day comes from?
Do you know how it came about that we pick one special day a year to show our appreciation for all the things our mothers do for us?
God knows she deserves it.
And isn’t that just it? Isn’t that what it’s all about – appreciation? Giving our mothers what they deserve? After all, it is Mother’s Day. And if you wonder about the origin of this day – her day, then you’ll probably find this history of Mother’s Day very enlightening.
A devoted daughter
Who would’ve thought that the woman who inspired Mother’s Day would die childless and alone? But that’s exactly what happened. Let’s find out how she got there.
In 1864, in the small town of Grafton, West Virginia, Anna Jarvis was born. As Anna grew up, she was very close to her mother, so leaving her to attend Mary Baldwin College was very difficult. But Anna was determined to get an education. And get one she did. When she returned home after completing her schooling, she was a certified public school teacher.
In 1902, Anna’s father died, forcing her and her mother to move in with relatives in Philadelphia. Just three years later, Anna’s mother died, too. Anna was devastated. Although to anyone who knew of her relationship with her mother, she was a very good daughter, she couldn’t help feeling that she’d never done enough for her.
She was overcome with feelings of guilt. These feelings didn’t leave her for two years. But out of everything bad comes something good, and the good was a seed that had been planted in Anna’s mind.
Perhaps Anna could soften the blow of her guilt by devoting a special day to commemorate not only her mother, but all mothers, all across America.
But she’d start small. So in 1907, on the second Sunday in May, the anniversary of her mother’s death, Anna invited a group of friends to her house in Philadelphia. She wanted to test the waters by sharing her idea of a nationwide celebration to be called Mother’s Day.
Well, her friends thought the water was warm, and they all dove in – they loved her idea. The mothers thought that appreciation for all the hard work they did had been a long time coming. The children never turned down an excuse for a celebration. And the fathers certainly wanted to give their wives their fair due. So the support for Mother’s Day was unanimous.
The first Mother’s Day celebration
Anna was greatly encouraged by all the support for her idea. And it made her feel so much better about her relationship with her own mother. So she happily pursued her goal. She first got financial backing from John Wanamaker, America’s number one clothing manufacturer. Then she took her plan back to her home town of Grafton.
Early in the spring of 1908, Anna wrote to the superintendent of Andrews Methodist Sunday School, where her mother had been a Sunday School teacher for 20 years. She suggested that this church would be the ideal location for a celebration in her mother’s honor. And since she told them that this celebration would be for every mother, and that every mother would receive a gift, support was at a high.
So on May 10, 1908, the first Mother’s Day service was held in Grafton, West Virginia, attended by 407 children and their mothers. The minister chose text from John 19: 26 and 27 – Jesus’ parting words from the cross, to his mother: “Woman, behold thy son!” and “Behold thy Mother!”
At the end of the service, Anna gave each mother and child a carnation, which had been her own mother’s favorite flower. This tradition lives on today.
Anna Jarvis has to fight hard for Mother’s Day recognition
Anna Jarvis’ idea of Mother’s Day was joyously accepted across the nation. The House of Representatives quickly passed a Mother’s Day resolution. But one Midwestern senator strongly objected. (We think he may have been an old fuddy-duddy, but we’re speculating.)
According to Congressional records, he strongly objected, shouting such statements as “Might as well have a Father’s Day. Or a Mother-in-Law’s Day. Or an Uncle’s Day.” His influence must have exceeded his common sense, because the Mother’s Day resolution stalled in the Senate.
But Anna Jarvis had already come a long way and she wasn’t going to stop there. She began what’s been called one of the most successful one-person letter-writing campaigns in history. Her letters were sent to congressmen, governors, mayors, business leaders, newspaper editors, ministers – virtually anyone of importance who would listen.
And listen they did. Anna’s supporters in government and business gave speeches; those in publishing wrote editorials; ministers gave sermons – all pushing for the national observance of Mother’s Day.
The wave began in the small villages, then spread to the towns, then to the big cities, then on to state levels. All across the country, Mother’s Day was being celebrated – but only unofficially.
It got to the point where, if you didn’t support the idea of Mother’s Day, you were…well, just un-American! And finally, in this light, President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation on May 8, 1914, designating the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day.
Mother’s Day spreads throughout the world
Meanwhile, across “the pond”, Britain had been paying tribute to mothers for years – but on the fourth Sunday of the Lenten season. They called it “Mothering Sunday”. It hadn’t caught on internationally, which is why Anna Jarvis’ idea was the beginning that led to the actual official designation of this observance.
But because of the respect the rest of the world had for the United States, their traditions were adopted in countries all around the world. Today, almost every country has a Mother’s Day.
A sad – and undeserved – end for Anna Jarvis
As we mentioned, this wonderful celebration that Anna Jarvis had brought to the whole world, went unrewarded. Anna’s personal life went a very different direction. She was so hurt by a disastrous love affair, that she never married. Every Mother’s Day brought her pain.
She had originally meant Mother’s Day to be a religious observance. However, as commercialization hit the modern world, it got swept up in the flood of markets and profit.
Anna tried to sue the companies that were making money from her “sacred day”, with numerous litigations. But that, too, failed, and Anna became a recluse.
She devoted her life to her blind sister, Elsinore; but then Elsinore died. It didn’t take Anna long to use up her life savings and, soon after, lose her home. All these negatives affected her health and, in November 1944, she had to apply for social assistance.
Some of her friends gave her enough money to spend her final miserable years in a private sanitarium. Can you imagine her sitting there telling people that she “invented” Mother’s Day? Surely, they thought her to be deranged.
Finally, in 1948, at 84 years old, deaf, ailing and nearly blind, the woman who had such a warm idea, died feeling very cold. She wasn’t a mother herself. So she didn’t have anyone to visit her on Mother’s Day. It’s such a sad ending to what started out as such a happy story.
The joy of Mother’s Day is shared with the joy of giving
As Mother’s Day is celebrated around the world, the giving of gifts has created a huge market. It centers in the U.S., where Americans now buy 10 million bouquets of flowers, exchange 150 million greeting cards, and dine at restaurants more than at any other time of the year.
One-third of all American families take their mothers out for dinner on her special day.
And all kinds of other opportunities have presented themselves, as people look for more imaginative gifts for their mothers. As we mentioned, a gourmet steak dinner is a very popular choice.
And millions of carnations, the original Mother’s Day flower, bless vases across the land. Jewellery, whether it’s a diamond ring, a pearl necklace, or a designer wrist watch is always a gift that any mother would accept with a tear in her eye. Gifts come from children, husbands, parents – anybody who understands how much a mother is worth to them.
Anybody who appreciates all the time and effort a mother puts into her life, and her family’s lives. Anybody who loves their mother and wants to take one special day a year to just say, “Thank you, Mom!”