Mother’s Day Centennial: Celebrating Mom for 100 years

SUNDAY, MAY 11: There’s no one in the world quite like Mom, so honor her the way Anna Jarvis intended, on this centennial anniversary of Mother’s Day.

Although humans have been celebrating motherhood for millennia, the modern American version of Mother’s Day—the one we all know today—began in 1908 with Anna Jarvis. Determined to bring awareness to the vital role of each mother in her family, Jarvis began campaigning for a “Mother’s Day,” and finally was successful in reaching the whole country in 1914. Jarvis’s concept differed considerably from corporate interests in the holiday, however, and the over-commercialization of Mother’s Day was irritating to Jarvis as early as the 1920s. This year, in honor of the Mother’s Day centennial, honor Mom the way Jarvis intended: with a hand-written letter, a visit, a homemade gift or a meal, cooked from scratch.

After all, Mom’s worth it, right?

Care to read a wonderfully inspiring column about these relationships? Author Debra Darvick’s headline—to mark this centennial—is, The best words: ‘I had a mother who read to me …’

Want even more? Click here to visit ReadTheSpirit magazine’s front page, where you’ll find a dozen more stories about Mother’s Day, Moms and their families.


American observances honoring mothers began popping up in the 1870s and 1880s, but Jarvis’s campaigns were the first to make it beyond the local level. The first “official” Mother’s Day service was actually a memorial ceremony, held at Jarvis’s church, in 1908; the 500 carnations given out at that first celebration have given way to the widespread custom of distributing carnations to mothers on this day. (Wikipedia has details.) For Anna, the floral choice was easy: Carnations were her mother’s favorite flowers.

President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation in 1914, sending the holiday coast to coast.

Despite Jarvis’s best efforts, the commercialization of Mother’s Day was inevitable. Mother’s Day is now one of the most financially successful holidays on the American calendar—mainly because it is the most popular day of the year to eat out and to make phone calls. Each year, Americans spend $2.6 billion on flowers for Mother’s Day; $1.53 billion on gifts; and $68 million on greeting cards.


It seems that brunch is to Mother’s Day like cookies and milk are to Santa, and we’ve got plenty of ideas to get you started! Here are just a few, plus gift and craft ideas to boot:

(Originally published at, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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  1. Barbara McDowell Whitt says

    From the time I learned in church that Mother’s Day corsages should be colorful if your mother is alive, and white if she is in heaven, and now that I have been a mother for 35 years, I am grateful to Anna Jarvis for working to establish Mother’s Day.

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