Mother’s Day is always celebrated on the second Sunday in the month of May. This year, the United States celebrates living and deceased mothers on May 14, 2017. Although President Woodrow Wilson declared Mother’s Day a national holiday on May 9, 1914, other countries celebrate and honor mothers with their own celebrations. Mother’s Day did not originate in the United States, and the idea of a holiday to recognize and honor mothers dates back to antiquity.
Here is the proclamation issued by President Wilson on May 9, 1914.
“Now, therefore, I, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the said Joint Resolution, do hereby direct the government officials to display the United States flag on all government buildings and do invite the people of the United States to display the flag at their homes or other suitable places on the second Sunday in May as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”
Watch the History of Mother’s Day
President Woodrow Wilson issued a national Mother’s Day proclamation, but it was in the works for many years. Beginning with limited movements that recognized the works of mothers, three women are credited with promoting the idea of Mother’s Day that helped lead to Wilson’s proclamation. They are Julia Ward Howe and mother and daughter social activists Ann and Anna Jarvis.
The book The Family in America: An Encyclopedia, Volume 2 shares a synopsis of how Mother’s Day became a national U.S. holiday and the work of Ann and Anna Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe. Social activist Ann Jarvis organized women during the Civil War for the purpose of improving health and conditions for those involved during the war. In 1868, Ann Jarvis organized a committee and planned to launch an event called Mother’s Friendship Day. The event would be a way to honor and recognize the work mothers performed during the Civil War and would serve as a time when families would come together to honor their mothers.
Ann Jarvis, who passed away on May 9, 1905, did not live to see the fulfillment of her dream. Ann Jarvis is credited with the inspiration for Mother’s Day, and President Wilson signed the national proclamation for Mother’s Day on May 9, 1914. This was nine years to the day following Ann Jarvis’ death. You can learn more about Ann Jarvis via National Geographic’s Mother’s Day article “Mother’s Day turns 100: It’s Surprisingly Dark History” and the book Women of Courage.
Suffragette Julia Ward Howe took up the cause for a day of celebration and honor for mothers. Four years following Ann Jarvis’ committee, Julia Ward Howe called for women in the United States to join forces and declare June 2, 1872, as a Mother’s Day for Peace. Howe wanted to ensure peace and was vocal about mother’s as pacifists. Many know Howe as the author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” but she also wrote what has become known as the Mother’s Day Proclamation. You may read Howe’s “Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World” at the Library of Congress.
Following Ann Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe’s attempts to develop a national celebration in honor of mothers is Jarvis’ daughter Anna. Anna Jarvis never married and had no children of her own, but she followed in her mother’s footsteps. Although many women laid the groundwork for a national holiday, it is Anna Jarvis who is credited with starting Mother’s Day in the United States. When Anna’s beloved mother died in 1905, Anna held a celebration in honor of her that year. It was 1905, and Anna held a memorial at her mother’s church St. Andrew’s Methodist, located in Grafton, West Virginia. In 1908, the first Mother’s Day celebration was held where women honored their own mothers, and by 1911, many states had adopted ordinances in honor of Mother’s Day. It wasn’t until President Wilson declared Mother’s Day a national holiday in 1914 that it began to reach commercial status.
Interestingly, Anna Jarvis, who carried out her mother’s legacy and saw Mother’s Day become a national holiday, later resented the commercial aspect. She disapproved of companies selling Mother’s Day cards and how the holiday became a time spending money on gifts and found it devoid of sentimental value. Jarvis became an outspoken critic of Mother’s Day but to no avail. She fought the commercialization of Mother’s Day and not only lost but ended up in a sanitarium. According to an NPR report, Jarvis’ sanitarium bill was paid for by those in the floral and greeting card business.
Today, Mother’s Day remains a time where greeting card companies and flower delivery services can expect to make a profit, but is that necessarily a bad thing? While Mother’s Day is a commercialized holiday, it is still a time of deep sentiment, and many who purchase gifts for their mothers do so out of love and gratitude. What might seem less common in modern Mother’s Day celebrations is the proud display of the American flag. Do you wave the flag on Mother’s Day the way President Wilson intended? Do you agree with Anna Jarvis that Mother’s Day has lost its original meaning and has become too commercialized?
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