ANNA M. JARVIS (1864 - 1948)
I put the picture of Anna Jarvis at the top of this page because it only seemed fitting that the lady who fought to have Mother's Day recognized as a national holiday be honored.
Now I know you're saying to yourself, "who was Anna Jarvis??" And that's a very good question. But Mother's Day actually goes back much farther than Anna Jarvis.
"The tradition of honoring mothers is a revival of a practice that dates back to the Greek empire. The ancient Greeks dedicated their annual spring festival to Rhea, the wife of Cronus and mother of the gods and goddesses. On the Ides of March, the Romans observed this event, the Hilaria, by making offerings in the temple of Cybele, the great mother of the gods."
During the early 1600's in Europe, the poor who worked for the wealthy usually lived where they worked and couldn't afford to go home all the time. But one Sunday each year, the fourth Sunday of Lent, was set aside to honor mothers and so the poor were given that day off to go "a-mothering". They were encouraged to return to the home of their mothers with "mothering" cakes or gifts.
As christianity spread throughout Europe, it was decreed that the fourth Sunday be set aside to honor "mother church" and people would go to services to honor the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ. Soon, as time went by, the two practices melded into a single holiday honoring both the church and all mothers.
There is some controversy as to who suggested the first American Mother's Day. Some say it was Julia Ward Howe, the author of the Star Spangled Banner. But most everyone agrees that it was Anna M. Jarvis who fought to have Mother's Day recognized as a national holiday.
"Anna's mother, Mrs. Anna Marie Reese Jarvis, had originally conceived the idea of an annual, nationwide holiday honoring mothers. She believed that a day in honor of mothers could help reunite families torn apart by the bitter hatred of the Civil War. Mrs. Jarvis died on May 9, 1905, before she was able to realize her dream; however, her daughter did not abandon the idea."
As Anna stood beside her mother's graveside, she made a solemn promise, "Mother, that prayer made in our little church in Grafton, West Virginia calling for someone, somewhere, sometime to find a memorial to Mother's Day--the time and place is here and the someone is your daughter, and, by the grace of God, you shall have that day."
Following her mother's death on May 9, 1905, Anna wanted to have a special memorial Mother's Day service at the methodist church where her mother had taught. It took her three years to finally get her wish. "On Sunday, May 10, 1908, the minister of the church in which Mrs. Jarvis had taught, Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, arranged a special service honoring Mrs. Jarvis. Anna donated 500 white carnations, her mother's favorite flower, to be worn by everyone in attendance. On this first official Mother's Day, the pastor used the biblical text, 'Woman, behold thy son; Son, behold thy mother' (John 19:26)."
"Two years after her mother passed away, Anna began formulating a campaign for the national observance of a day devoted to mothers. Unmarried and alone with her blind sister Elsinore, Anna felt the loss of her mother deeply. Convinced that she, and all children, neglected to appreciate their mothers while they lived, Anna believed that a Mother's Day would increase respect for parents and strengthen home ties. Enlisting advice and financial assistance from John Wanamaker, she wrote countless letters to people from all walks of life, including congressmen."
Anna campaigned tirelessly (and spent two fortunes) over the next 7 years to have Mother's Day voted in as a national holiday. Finally, in 1914, Senators Thomas J. Heflin of Alabama and Morris Shepard of Texas presented a bill to President Woodrow Wilson recommending that a day be set aside to honor all mothers. The bill was signed and the second Sunday in May was chosen because it was the anniverary of Anna Jarvis' mother's death. The first official Mother's Day was May 8, 1914.
"At first, Americans observed Mother's Day by attending the churches of their baptisms and by visiting or writing letters to their mothers. Gradually, other ways of expressing affection were added, such as giving presents and candy, mailing cards, and sending flowers. In 1934, the postal department issued a three-cent stamp of the painting of Whistler's mother as a special tribute to all mothers past and present."
Today, Mother's Day is celebrated in 46 countries. However, not all countries celebrate it on the second Sunday in May. England's Mother's Day is the fourth Sunday in Lent and the International Mother's Day is always May 11. Denmark, Finland, Italy, Turkey, Australia, and Belgium all celebrate it on the second Sunday in May.
Anna Jarvis spent the last years of her life fighting against what she considered to be crass commercialism of the holiday meant to honor mothers. Ironically, it was grateful florists who supported her until her death at 84. The lady who had fought so long and hard to have a dream and a promise come to life, died having never become a mother, alone, blind and penniless.
(Quotes excerpted from Mother's Day History)
Learn About Memorial Day