Anna Jarvis was born in West Virginia in 1864. Her mother, Ann (Mama) Jarvis, was a social activist who had cared for both Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. Later, Mama Jarvis created a Mothers’ Friendship Day to encourage mothers on both sides of the war to put aside their differences. Mama Jarvis also worked with Julie Ward Howe to have June 2 celebrated as Mother’s Peace Day in an effort to work toward world peace.
With a mother like hers, it’s understandable that Anna Jarvis would also be drawn toward social activism. Anna attended college and returned home to teach. She and her mother had always been close.
Anna would later move to Tennessee to work with an uncle and then later to Philadelphia to be with her brother. Anna and her mother maintained regular correspondence. When Anna’s father died, she urged her mother to come live with her in Philadelphia. Anna’s mother was in ill health and died on May 9, one year after moving.
Three years later, Anna held a memorial for her mother and all mothers in her hometown of Grafton, WV. All those in attendance who had lost their mother were given white carnations symbolizing the mothers who had passed away. This became the first Mother’s Day.
In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson designated the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. Anna Jarvis was insistent that the apostrophe comes before the s so that each son or daughter would be recognizing their own mothers. Making Mother’s Day singular made it an individual celebration, not a broader celebration.
As Mother’s Day became commercialized, Anna Jarvis became disenchanted with what she had created. She began to try to have Mother’s Day rescinded from its national recognition. She ultimately became destitute from the legal challenges associated with the commercialization of Mother’s Day. Those who bring about something can often be disappointed as a result of their beginning.
Anna became ill and needed to be cared for in a sanitarium. She had no money to provide for her care. Ironically, corporations involved in the commercialization of Mother’s Day paid for her care. Anna Jarvis, the creator of Mother’s Day, died in 1948 having never married or had children of her own.
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“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.” – Anna Jarvis