Mother’s Day: Give a personalized tribute to Mom for Anna Jarvis’ holiday

SUNDAY, MAY 10: In 1908, a small church service in West Virginia gave birth to the American version of Mother’s Day—today, a national holiday that grosses billions of dollars in flowers, gifts and cards, and pays homage to the millions of mothers across the country.

Though versions of the current American Mother’s Day predated its creation—and, worldwide, several variations have existed for centuries—our modern American Mother’s Day will celebrate its 101st year in 2015. Ironically, the primary advocate of the first Mother’s Day—Anna Jarvis—soon regretted having petitioned so persistently for the holiday, as the commercialism that rapidly followed its ascent was a stark contrast to the small-scale, personalized holiday that had originally been envisioned. Nonetheless, experts attest that had it not been for the early commercialization of Mother’s Day, it—like other smaller holidays of its time—would likely have fizzled out.

The first “official” service took place at the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia. At this church, Anna Jarvis honored her mother, who had been a Sunday School teacher at the location. By 1914, President Woodrow Wilson had set aside the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

Care to learn more? This tiny church, built in 1873, became the site of an International Mother’s Day Shrine in the 1960s. Wikipedia has the details about this tourist destination that was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992.


During the 1850s, Ann Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia held Mother’s Day work clubs to improve sanitation conditions, lower rates of infant mortality, fight disease and contamination and assist other mothers. When the Civil War broke out, women in these clubs looked after wounded soldiers. Following the Civil War, Jarvis and others organized Mother’s Friendship Day picnics, as a means of uniting citizens from both sides of the former Union and Confederacy. (Wikipedia has details.) Julia Ward Howe—composer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”—went a step further, and publicly encouraged women to take an active political role in fostering peace.

Upon the death of Ann Reeves Jarvis in 1905, her daughter, Anna Jarvis, was prompted to organize a tribute service for her at her church. Jarvis distributed hundreds of carnations—her mother’s favorite flower—to mothers at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church, in Grafton. With financial backing for the holiday from Philadelphia department store owner John Wanamaker, thousands of people attended a Mother’s Day event at one of Wanamaker’s retail stores in 1908.

Jarvis worked tirelessly to establish a national day for mothers, and by 1912, many states had adopted the holiday. (Learn more from Jarvis established the Mother’s Day International Association for her cause and, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson officially established Mother’s Day as the second Sunday in May.

Despite every intention by Jarvis, Mother’s Day became an enormously profitable holiday for the retail industry, confectioners and florists. The U.S. National Restaurant Association now reports Mother’s Day as the most popular holiday for dining out, and Hallmark reports the holiday as trailing only Christmas and Valentine’s Day in the volume of cards exchanged. The American version of Mother’s Day is currently also celebrated in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.


  • View President Woodrow Wilson’s Mother’s Day Proclamation, here.
  • Free Mother’s Day sermon ideas, available for a variety of denominations, are at

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.)

Mother’s Day: ‘Arise, women!’ (Know the origins of the holiday?)

“Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.”

-Excerpted and adapted by Ken Sehested, from Julia Ward Howe’s “Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World,” September 1870

SUNDAY, MAY 12: Give thanks to Mom, Grandma and any maternal figure in your life today on this, the second Sunday of May—it’s Mother’s Day.

The modern observance of Mother’s Day began with Anna Jarvis in 1908, when she collaborated with the founder of Bethany Temple Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. From the beginning, Jarvis specified the day should be “Mother’s Day,” as a singular possessive, so that each person would honor their own mother. Jarvis herself promoted the holiday tirelessly until she caught the attention of President Woodrow Wilson, who made the day an official national holiday in 1914. (Wikipedia has details.) Unfortunately, the day became so commercialized that Jarvis later regretted having established the holiday at all.

Did you know? Mother’s Day yields the highest church attendance after Christmas Eve and Easter. Most churches honor their congregation’s mothers in some way—with a special prayer, perhaps, or in many congregations with a flower.

In search of the perfect gift? Kaboose offers up do-it-yourself ideas for kids, while Mother Nature Network suggests gifts for moms who love gardening. For unique moms, Huffington Post has “weird” gifts, and Fox News suggests gifts that will boost Mom’s health.

Cooking Mom brunch? Look to Martha Stewart and AllRecipes for ideas and recipes. Or, visualize America’s 10 coolest Mother’s Day Brunches with a photo slideshow from ABC News.

Care to care more? The Mother’s Day Movement supports women and girls in the developing world, with the belief that empowered women strongly impact the lives of their children and their communities. Help these women by donating your portion of the $14 billion spent annually on Mother’s Day. This year, the Mother’s Day Movement is focusing on the Fistula Foundation, which aids women who often suffer lifelong isolation resulting from difficulties in childbirth.

Or, try a Mother’s Day Prayer or learn the Catholic perspective with these Mother’s Day resources.

Want Mother’s Day By the Numbers? Check out


ReadTheSpirit is offering a couple of great ideas:
columnist Bobbie Lewis writes about the importance of actually setting aside time to talk to Mom and to listen to her. She calls her story Questions Left Unanswered; Stories Left Untold. Simple. Free. And, a great idea.
Second, ReadTheSpirit recommends a Hallmark movie debut this week, called The Confession, based on a best-selling Amish-themed novel by Beverly Lewis. It’s about a wealthy mother trying to find her long-lost Amish daughter.


While the modern observance of Mother’s Day began just a century ago, celebrations for women and mothers have been common throughout history. Greeks worshipped the mother goddess Cybele, while the Romans held the festival of Hilaria; Christians have observed Mothering Sunday for centuries, while Hindus have honored “Mata Tirtha Aunshi,” or “Mother Pilgrimage Fortnight.” The first American attempts for a “Mother’s Day for Peace” arose in the 1870s, when Julia Ward Howe called on mothers to support disarmament in the Civil War and Franco-Prussian War. Several decades later, Anna Jarvis created a holiday that became the Mother’s Day we know today.