For many of us, our mother is a symbol of strength, unconditional love, encouragement, wisdom and caregiving. From birth, most of our mothers were the cornerstone of our upbringing. They helped us become the people we are today so while Mother’s Day is a day dedicated to celebrating all of the moms — past, present, expecting or hopeful — we’re thankful for them every single day.
The modern holiday of Mother’s Day was first celebrated in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother at St Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. St Andrew’s Methodist Church now holds the International Mother’s Day Shrine.
Her campaign to make Mother’s Day a recognized holiday in the United States began in 1905, the year her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, died. Ann Jarvis had been a peace activist who cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the American Civil War, and created Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address public health issues. Anna Jarvis wanted to honor her mother by continuing the work she started and to set aside a day to honor all mothers because she believed a mother is “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world”.
In 1908, the U.S. Congress rejected a proposal to make Mother’s Day an official holiday, joking that they would also have to proclaim a “Mother-in-law’s Day”. However, owing to the efforts of Anna Jarvis, by 1911 all U.S. states observed the holiday, with some of them officially recognizing Mother’s Day as a local holiday (the first being West Virginia, Jarvis’ home state, in 1910). In 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation designating Mother’s Day, held on the second Sunday in May, as a national holiday to honor mothers.
Although Jarvis was successful in founding Mother’s Day, she became resentful of the commercialization of the holiday. By the early 1920s, Hallmark Cards and other companies had started selling Mother’s Day cards.
Jarvis believed that the companies had misinterpreted and exploited the idea of Mother’s Day, and that the emphasis of the holiday was on sentiment, not profit. As a result, she organized boycotts of Mother’s Day, and threatened to issue lawsuits against the companies involved.
Jarvis argued that people should appreciate and honor their mothers through handwritten letters expressing their love and gratitude, instead of buying gifts and pre-made cards. Jarvis protested at a candy makers’ convention in Philadelphia in 1923, and at a meeting of American War Mothers in 1925.
By this time, carnations had become associated with Mother’s Day, and the selling of carnations by the American War Mothers to raise money angered Jarvis, who was arrested for disturbing the peace.