The origins of Mother's Day and Ann Jarvis

The origins of Mother’s Day and its founder Anna Jarvis

May 11 • #MummyBloggersforGood • 978 Views • No Comments

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and for most of us in the Western World it is a day when we delight in spending time with our Mums and for those of us who are luck enough to be mums,we  enjoy that special treat of breakfast in bed especially prepared by little loving hands. But do you know the origins of Mother’s Day?

In the 1850s, Ann Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia started Mothers’ Day Work Clubs in order to teach women proper child-care techniques and sanitation methods. In the years following the Civil War, these same clubs became a unifying force for America. In 1868, Jarvis and other women organized a Mothers Friendship Day, when mothers gathered with former soldiers of both the Union and Confederacy to promote reconciliation and friendship. When Ann Reeves Jarvis died in 1905, it was her daughter Anna Jarvis who would work tirelessly to establish  Mother’s Day as a national holiday. Who would of thought that it would go on to become a global day of celebration.

But the story of Mother’s Day has an interesting twist: Anna Jarvis, who had no children of her own, conceived  Mother’s Day as an occasion for honoring the sacrifices individual mothers made for their children. In May 1908, she organized the first official Mother’s Day events at a church in her hometown of Grafton, West Virginia, as well as at a Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia, where she lived at the time. Jarvis then began lobbying by writing letters to newspapers and politicians pushing for the adoption of Mother’s Day as an official holiday.

This movement caught on and by 1912, many other churches, towns and states were holding Mother’s Day celebrations, and Jarvis had established the Mother’s Day International Association.

Eventually in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.


Jarvis’ concept of Mother’s Day was intended an intimate occasion—a son or daughter honoring the mother they knew and loved—and not a celebration of all mothers. For this reason, she always stressed the singular “Mother’s” rather than the plural.

It is something all of us can identify with – Mother’s Day is all about MUM. Sadly Anna soon grew disillusioned, as Mother’s Day almost immediately became centered on the buying and giving of printed cards, flowers and other gifts.

Disappointed with this growing commercialisation, Jarvis began openly campaigning against those who profited from Mother’s Day, including confectioners, florists and other retailers. She launched numerous lawsuits against groups using the name Mother’s Day, and eventually spent much of her sizeable inheritance on legal fees.


In 1925, when an organization called the American War Mothers used Mother’s Day as an occasion for fundraising and selling carnations, Jarvis crashed their convention in Philadelphia and was arrested for disturbing the peace. Later, she even attacked First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for using Mother’s Day as an occasion to raise money for charity. By the 1940s, Jarvis had disowned the holiday altogether, and even actively lobbied the government to see it removed from the calendar. Her efforts were to no avail, however, as Mother’s Day had taken on a life of its own as a commercial goldmine.

Largely destitute, and unable to profit from the massively successful holiday she founded, Jarvis died in 1948 in Philadelphia’s Marshall Square Sanitarium.


The sad history of Mother’s Day founder Anna Jarvis has done nothing to slow down the popularity—and commercialism.


What do you think? Is Anna’s original vision for Mother’s Day what tomorrow is all about? Mum’s everywhere and across generations are grateful for Anna’s determination in focusing this special day on Mum. Most of us couldn’t care less about the commercialisation. Mother’s Day remains a day for spending time with Mum  and showing her how much we individually value her role in our lives.

Have a Happy Day everyone

Kathie x

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