How Mother's Day Creator Anna Jarvis Fought For The Day, Then Against Its Commercialization

Mother's Day creator Anna Jarvis just wanted to honor her mother and her mother's wishes.

Time Magazine is reporting that Jarvis spent many years in numerous letter-writing campaigns in an effort to create a day to honor all mothers. Anna Jarvis' reason for creating Mother's Day was indeed her own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis. The first official observance of Mother's Day was May 10, 1908 when Jarvis sent 500 carnations to her mother's church, Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church, in Grafton, W.Va., later designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1992.

Almost six years later, President Woodrow Wilson was compelled to issue a proclamation that the second Sunday in May would be named Mother's Day, a day in which all government buildings would fly the American flag to honor all mothers. Citizens were invited to fly the American flag at homes and businesses to honor mothers, as well. You can read the proclamation here.

According to Buzzfeed, however, the creation of Mother's Day left a bad taste in creator Jarvis' mouth.

The idea for Mother's Day was borne from Jarvis' mother during Sunday school teaching. On May 28, 1876, Reeves Jarvis was teaching Sunday School class, including Anna, about famous mothers in the bible. Reeves Jarvis ended the day with a prayer; "I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother's day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it."

Anna Jarvis never forgot that prayer, nor her mother's efforts towards women's causes, which included assisting mothers stricken with tuberculosis. After the Civil War, Reeves Jarvis created Mother's Friendship Day to help ease remaining tensions between the North and South. Reeves Jarvis died in 1905.

At Reeves Jarvis' gravesite, Jarvis proclaimed through tears, "Mother, that prayer made in our little church in Grafton calling for someone, somewhere, sometime to found a memorial to Dother's day — the time and place is here, and the someone is your daughter. And by the grace of God, you shall have your Mother's Day."

Jarvis began a letter-writing campaign in 1907, writing to notable persons in an effort to make Mother's Day a reality. She wrote then-president Theodore Roosevelt, presidential hopeful William Jennings Bryan, writer Mark Twain, and Postmaster General John Wanamaker. Though many people, including women, thought the idea frivolous, Wanamaker and Twain jumped on board with the idea, Twain saying he was "heartily in favor of the idea."

Most states began holding their own Mother's Day celebrations, the Mother's Day movement gaining national momentum. Once nearly most of the United States were celebrating Mother's Day on their own, President Woodrow Wilson issued his proclamation.

While Wilson's idea of flying the American Flag was to honor all mothers, Jarvis named the white carnation as the official flower of Mother's Day. Jarvis also recommended writing to your mother to show appreciation. "Live this day as your mother would have you live it," Jarvis instructed. Jarvis envisioned a simple, honorable domestic appreciation of what mothers do for us. Mother's Day was to be "in honor of the best mother who ever lived — your own."

That notion, however, was short-lived. Since the white carnation was named the flower of Mother's Day, the commercialization of Mother's Day soon overtook the sentiment of the holiday. For example, when Jarvis bought 500 white carnations for her mother' church in 1908, they were a half-penny a piece. After 1912, they were 15 cents a piece, thanks to the popularity of Mother's Day.

Jarvis spent her remaining years fighting said commercialization, using all of her financial resources to quell the overwhelming mentality to have to purchase gifts for Mother's Day. Jarvis' efforts fell far short and made her bitter and saddened. She would later say she wished she had never created Mother's Day if she knew the candy, flower, and greeting card industries would usurp the true intent of the holiday.

Jarvis died in 1943, blind, alone, and surrounded by strangers. Jarvis never married and never had children. Her creation lives on, but not in the manner in which she intended. In the end, Jarvis made her Mother's Day wish live, but the end result broke her heart.