Did you know?
As you get ready to celebrate Mother’s Day with your mom on May 12 this year, it may interest you to know that the day is being celebrated in a way never intended by its founder, Anna Jarvis. In fact, if she were alive today, and knew you were taking your mom out for brunch, buying her flowers, jewelry and a box of chocolates, she would be—as she was in her lifetime—enraged!
Jarvis was a tenacious and fiercely independent woman who remained single and childless at a time when women were expected to do the exact opposite. Yet she dedicated her entire life and financial resources to the obsessive pursuit of a national, commerce-free holiday for mothers. Why?
Certainly, she was inspired by her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, a Sunday school teacher who, in her lifetime, helped start Mother’s Day Work Clubs to discuss the latest hygiene practices to keep children healthy. Her initiative undoubtedly stemmed from her own tragic experiences with childbirth: she bore 13 children, but only four lived to adulthood, not an uncommon occurrence at the time.
After her mother’s death in 1905, Jarvis took up the challenge to establish a national day for mothers in honour of her own mother. She left behind her mother’s educational ideals though. To her, Mother’s Day was simply a day to honor mothers and commemorate them for their service for humanity.
Jarvis held America’s first Mother’s Day celebration in 1908 at St. Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. Then, she embarked on a letter-writing campaign to persuade governors of every state to declare the second Sunday of May—the closest Sunday to the anniversary of her mother’s death—Mother’s Day.
It wasn’t until 1914, that President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first national Mother’s Day as a day to honor mothers whose sons died in war.
Unfortunately for Jarvis, the popularity of her movement spawned a commercial direction that she spent the rest of her life fighting. Things got ugly. She railed against flower shop owners, card makers, even the candy industry for profiting off a holiday that she envisioned as a commemorative day of gratitude. That fight consumed Jarvis until the day she died at the age of 84, drained of the modest fortune she’d inherited from her family.
Since then, Mother’s Day has become even more popular. It’s now ranks as one of the most profitable holidays next to Christmas. In 2018, North American consumers spent a record high $23.6 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.
Anna Jarvis would hate that.