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.
MOTHER’S DAY: FROM THE CIVIL WAR TO A HALLMARK HOLIDAY
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 History.com.) 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.
MOTHER’S DAY: NEWS AND RESOURCES
- View President Woodrow Wilson’s Mother’s Day Proclamation, here.
- Free Mother’s Day sermon ideas, available for a variety of denominations, are at SermonCentral.com.
- Kids can find printables to color, or get DIY Mother’s Day gift ideas, from the UK’s Activity Village.
- Got a techie Mom? Check out these cutting-edge technology gift options.
- Opt for sustainably-grown, fair-trade flowers for Mom this year, as this news story illustrates the dire and life-threatening conditions of mothers working in the cut-flower industry in Colombia—the original home of 80 percent of American cut flowers.