Mother’s Day: It’s Not Supposed to Be a Hallmark Holiday

Kimberly Bean
Published on May 8, 2017

Mother’s Day: It’s Not Supposed to Be a Hallmark Holiday

Sunday is Mother’s Day, and like many holidays, it came to life thanks to the work of one tireless promoter. Her name was Anna Jarvis, and as a devoted daughter, she was committed to finding a way to honor her not only her own mother – who gave birth to 11 children – but to all mothers worldwide.

The why of it all

The idea of reserving a day each year to honor the women of the world who gave birth to and raised us was actually Anna’s mother’s dream. It instilled in young Anna a resolve that she could not shake. She frequently remembered the day her mother, who was a Sunday school teacher and peace activist, gave a lesson on “Mothers in the Bible.” Anna’s mother concluded the day’s teachings with this prayer:

 “I hope that someone, sometime will found a memorial mother’s day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.” 

Anna never forgot these words. She read them at her mother’s funeral in 1905, adding a vow that “by the grace of God,” her mother’s dream of a day to honor the contributions of all mothers – living and dead – would be realized.

A tireless campaign

Anna and her supporters began a letter-writing campaign to city leaders, and Anna used the podium in her church and other civic arenas to speak on the topic.

Initially, her efforts were met with disinterest, but she was not dissuaded. Finally, with the help of Philadelphia philanthropist John Wanamaker, Anna was able to breathe new life into the movement.

Two years later, Anna’s home state of West Virginia became the first state to recognize a day set aside to honor mothers. In 1914, just four years later, President Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation creating Mother’s Day, a national holiday to be celebrated on the second Sunday in May.

Retail takes over

Anna’s mother was devoted to the care of soldiers during the Civil War, and she was fond of carnations. Anna chose this flower as the symbol of Mother’s Day. Those whose mothers had died wore white carnations, and those whose mother was still living wore red or pink carnations.

The boost in sales led florists to take Anna’s ideas and run with them. It didn’t take long for other retailers to jump on the bandwagon, and Mother’s Day became a holiday that retailers heavily promote, urging shoppers to buy cards and chocolates in addition to flowers.

The creator of Mother’s Day steps out

Anna was appalled by the monster that Mother’s Day had become. She was so irritated by the corruption of her mother’s idea and the exploitation of its sentiments that she worked to have it rescinded. She led boycotts, threatened lawsuits, and performed acts of civil disobedience – all to no avail.

She was arrested in 1925 for disturbing the peace after a protest over the commercialization of Mother’s Day. The never-married, never-a-mother Anna nevertheless spent the rest of her life devoted to the repeal of Mother’s Day.

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