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Anna Jarvis invented Mother’s Day, then fought against it: Will you celebrate?

Mother’s Day was invented in the United States by Anna Jarvis in 1908 but in less than nine years, she deeply regretted it and spent the rest of her life and her money fighting against it. “Americans spend $14.6 billion on gifts for mom, including $671 million for cards and $1.9 billion for flowers. The average amount spent to honor mom is $126.90,” reports Deseret News on May 6.

Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and her daughter Chelsea Clinton (L) acknowledge supporters as they visit the Anna Jarvis Birthplace Welcome Center and Pavilion during a campaign stop May 11, 2008 in Webster, West Virginia.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

For many, Mother’s Day is a day to honor and celebrate moms and to show them how much they are being appreciated. For Anna Jarvis that was the original intent, to honor her mom’s devotion and sacrifice.

As reported by, Anna was 12 years old when she reportedly heard her mom, Ann Reeves Jarvis, talk about mothers in the Bible to her Sunday school class and how she wished that there was a day to commemorate mothers for their contribution to all fields of life. Ann Reeves Jarvis was not only a woman of words but also of deeds. Besides her community and charity work in Grafton in West Virginia, she was also known for her efforts in caring for wounded soldiers on both sides of the Civil War.

After her mother’s death in 1905, Anna Jarvis began campaigning for a national celebration of Mother’s Day by writing letters to politicians, businessmen, and religious leaders. One of the business leaders that financially supported her campaign was retail giant John Wanamaker.

By 1908, the first two ceremonies were being held on the second weekend of May. One ceremony took place in the auditorium of Wanamaker’s Philadelphia store, and the other one was being held at her mother’s church in Grafton. While Jarvis was able to speak personally to an audience in Philadelphia, she had sent 500 white carnations (her mother’s favorite flower) to Grafton where they were being distributed to other mothers.

By 1909, white carnations had become a symbol to honor mothers, and the movement had spread to 45 U.S. states, to Canada, and to Mexico. By 1914, after more years of tirelessly fighting for a national recognition of Mother’s Day through campaigning, Jarvis got what she wanted – President Woodrow Wilson declared Mother’s Day an official national holiday.

Within nine years of having achieved her goal, Jarvis realized that she had created a monster and fought against Mother’s Day including lawsuits and letters reminding everyone what the day was supposed to be. “She expected us to do it with simple gestures — in her opinion, a single white carnation and a heartfelt letter were best.”

Anna Jarvis, who had fought so hard for Mother’s Day, spent the rest of her life fighting against what she saw as an abuse of the celebration. But it was too late. “Jarvis spent her considerable inheritance and the rest of her life fighting the commercialization of ‘her’ holiday. It was a losing battle. Jarvis died in 1948, bitter, blind, partially deaf and completely penniless in a Pennsylvania mental institution.”

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