Founder of Mother’s Day was herself childless

May 13, 2012Carole No Comments »

It might interest you to know that the founder of the modern Mother’s Day holiday was herself childless.  Two years after her own mother’s death, Anna Jarvis held a small celebration to honor her mother on  May 12, 1907, and 7 years later in 1914 succeeded in establishing a federal holiday when President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

Anna’s mother Ann Jarvis, had  founded an organization called the Mothers’ Day Work Clubs in five cities in West Virginia  to help improve sanitary and health conditions for mothers and their children. The elder Ann also worked to clothe and feed soldiers from both sides of the Civil War.  Anna’s Mom, the  elder Ann Jarvis, was a tough act to follow.

Interestingly, daughter Anna quickly became disillusioned with the commercialism of the federal holiday she created and in 1923 crashed a confectioner’s convention to protest using the holiday to sell candy.  In 1925, she was actually arrested for disturbing the peace at an American War Mothers convention which also used Mother’s Day for fundraising. She objected to the use of the holiday to praise the institution of motherhood and to use the holiday as an excuse for driving sales of flowers, candies and greeting cards. She fought against the Mother’s Day holiday well into the 1940’s, spending her entire inheritance in the effort. In her eighties, she was penniless, suffering from dementia and ultimately died in a mental institution in Philadelphia.

Her vision for the holiday was an intimate celebration of every person’s own mother. A day to simply say thank you to the person who nurtured you. Anna advocated the writing of personal handwritten notes to say thank you and was dismayed by the use of commercial cards.

She was very outspoken in her irritation with what Mother’s Day had become and her New York Times Obituary quoted her as saying:

“A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.”

Ironically, her own mother’s vision of the holiday may have been more a universal salute to motherhood–or a not too subtle hint to her own daughter that she could use a little appreciation. The elder Ann was quoted as saying after a Sunday School  service:

“I hope that someone, sometime will found a memorial Mother’s Day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.”

In fact there are some suggestions in the historical accounts that the relationship between Ann and Anna was not always idyllic and Anna the daughter may have lost her mother before she had a chance to reconcile with her after some angry words. Her work to achieve a Mother’s Day holiday may have been a kind of atonement for her unresolved issues with her own mother.

It may make Mother’s Day sting less if we remember that the creator of Mother’s Day had a simple vision of showing appreciation for the woman who nurtured her. Mother’s Day was not meant to be about having babies and becoming a mother. It was not meant to make women who don’t have children feel inferior to women who do have children.  The holiday was simply about thanking the woman (or women) who nurtured us in childhood and helped make us who we are as adults. Hopefully, all of us have at least one person like that in our lives so Mother’s Day is a holiday for all of us. Mother’s Day is as good a day as any to say “Thank You” to the women in our lives who mother us.


More articles on the origin of the Mother’s Day holiday:

Wikipedia Mother’s Day (US):

A 19th Century Lobbiest, An Arrest, And The Birth Of Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day’s Dark History

© 2012, Carole. All rights reserved.

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