Anna Jarvis Came To Loathe The Holiday She Fought To Establish… Meet The Mother Of Mother’s Day

May 8, 2015 by
Anna_Jarvis
HistoryHolidayMotherhood

Although President Woodrow Wilson gets all the credit for putting Mother’s Day on our national holiday calendar 100 years ago in 1914, the day was already being championed nine years earlier compliments of Woman You Should Know Anna Jarvis.

Anna’s mother Ann Reeves Jarvis was a social activist during the American Civil War. Ann organized “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” to improve sanitation and health for both Union and Confederate encampments undergoing a typhoid outbreak. She later created a committee to establish a “Mother’s Friendship Day,” the purpose of which was “to reunite families that had been divided during the Civil War.”

As the story goes, Anna, a doting daughter, got her inspiration for a designated “Mother’s Day” in 1876, as Ann closed one of her Sunday school lessons with this prayer…

“I hope and pray 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.”

After Ann’s death in 1905, Anna resolved to honor her mother and her wishes. She began an aggressive campaign to get Mother’s Day established as a U.S. holiday, and took to writing impassioned letters to politicians, businessmen, and religious leaders.

Her tireless work paid off. According to The Columbus Dispatch, “Around the second anniversary of her mother’s passing, Anna Jarvis honored her at a small gathering of friends at her home in Philadelphia. And, on May 10, 1908, Jarvis arranged for 500 white carnations, her mom’s favorite flower, to be handed out in a ceremony at the Grafton, W.Va., church where her mother had taught Sunday school,” marking the first official observance of Mother’s Day.

A year later, forty-five states as well as Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Canada and Mexico observed the day with appropriate services and by wearing carnations to carry on the tradition Anna started. A white carnation was to be worn to honor deceased mothers, and a red one to honor a living mother.

By 1911, Mother’s Day was celebrated in almost every state of the Union. Anna’s final victory came in 1914 when Woodrow Wilson issued a Presidential Proclamation declaring Mother’s Day an official national holiday.

In a thank-you note to President Wilson, Anna wrote of a “great Home Day of our country for sons and daughters to honor their mothers and fathers and homes in a way that will perpetuate family ties and give emphasis to true home life.”

But her elation and pride were short lived. In a sad turn of events, Anna began to sour on Mother’s Day as commercialism slowly eclipsed “her” holiday, as early as the 1920s. It was around the same time that Hallmark started printing cards to commemorate the day.

In response, Anna is reported to have said…

“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 petty sentiment.”

It was ire like this that caused her to spend “her considerable inheritance and the rest of her life fighting” against what had become of a day she intended to be reverential and contemplative.

Anna Jarvis died in 1948, bitter, blind, partially deaf and completely penniless in a Pennsylvania mental institution.


Sources: Mother’s Day Celebration, Wikipedia, The Columbus Dispatch

This story originally published on Women You Should Know on May 7, 2014

  • AJ

    I remember so vividly when I was a young girl that my mother would buy two carnations for each Mother’s Day – one was white and the other PINK. She would wear the white one on Mother’s Day honoring her mother who had died, and I would wear the pink one honoring her. I never heard of a red one being used to honor a living mother. In my neighborhood it was always pink. But either way, I think it is a beautiful tradition.

    • kashy

      After reading this article, I too remember my grandmothers’ getting carnation corsages to wear on Mother’s Day. I believe my mom would wear one too. But I don’t remember when we stopped doing that, I wish the tradition would come back again.

  • http://www.alltechytricks.com/ All Techy Tricks

    Her tireless work paid off. Code to Add All Friends To Facebook GroupMother’s Day was celebrated in almost every state of the Union. Anna’s final victory came in 1914 when Woodrow Wilson issued a Presidential Proclamation declaring Mother’s Day an official national holiday.

  • http://www.alltechytricks.com/ All Techy Tricks

    too remember my grandmothers’ getting carnation corsages to wear on Mother’s Day. I believe my mom would wear one too. IPL 2015 Live Stream Anna’s final victory came in 1914 when Woodrow Wilson issued a Presidential Proclamation declaring Mother’s Day an official national holiday.

  • Ariane Mitchell

    How terribly sad. :(

  • SnarlingBadger

    “A year later, forty-five states including Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Canada and Mexico observed the day” … Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico are not states. Hawaii didn’t become a state of the US until 1959.

    • http://www.womenyoushouldknow.net/ Women You Should Know

      SnarlingBadger you are absolutely correct, and that sentence has been adjusted.

  • Bob Bartlett

    “Anna held a memorial ceremony in honor of her mother and all mothers at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, marking the first official observance of Mother’s Day.” Wrong! It was founded in Grafton West Virginia! Anna Jarvis later moved to Philadelphia Pa. How do I know? My grandmother attended the first celebration along with about 400 other people.

    • http://www.womenyoushouldknow.net/ Women You Should Know

      Thanks Bob! We double checked our source materials, and Anna did host a memorial ceremony in Philly in 1907, two years after her mother’s death, to honor her and other mothers. The following year, in 1908, was when she hosted the carnation ceremony in Grafton, W.Va. According to The Columbus Dispatch, “Around the second anniversary of her mother’s passing, Anna Jarvis honored her at a small gathering of friends at her home in Philadelphia. And, on May 10, 1908, Jarvis arranged for 500 white carnations, her mom’s favorite flower, to be handed out in a ceremony at the Grafton, W.Va., church where her mother had taught Sunday school.”

      • Bob Bartlett

        As a result of the handing out of carnations it became a tradition to wear a carnation on Mother’s day in that town. One would wear a red carnation if your mother was alive and a white carnation if she were deceased. (I’m not sure if the colors were the other way around.) Thanks!

        • http://www.womenyoushouldknow.net/ Women You Should Know

          Yes indeed. In fact, that tradition quickly spread far and wide beyond Grafton. By 1909, forty-five states (in addition to Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Canada and Mexico) observed the day with appropriate ceremonies and the wearing of a white carnation to honor deceased mothers, and a red one to honor a living mother. Thanks again for sharing your family’s personal history connected to Anna Jarvis.

Read previous post:
Eco-friendly natural cleaners. Vinegar, baking soda, salt and lemon on white background. Homemade green cleaning. Copy space.
Fix-It Friday: Viva Vinegar… 12 Terrific Household Uses For Distilled White Vinegar

It's cheap, non-toxic, eco-friendly, anti-bacterial, and its uses and benefits stretch well out of the kitchen pantry...

Close