Anna Jarvis, daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis, who had moved from Grafton, West Virginia, to Philadelphia, in 1890, was the power behind the official establishment of Mother’s Day
- She swore at her mother’s gravesite in 1905 to dedicate her life to her mother’s project, and establish a Mother’s Day to honor mothers, living and dead.
- A persistent rumor is that Anna’s grief was intensified because she and her mother had quarreled and her mother died before they could reconcile.
- In 1907 she passed out 500 white carnations at her mother’s church, St. Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia—one for each mother in the congregation.
- May 10, 1908: the first church—St. Andrew’s in Grafton, West Virginia—responded to her request for a Sunday service honoring mothers
- 1908: John Wanamaker, a Philadelphia merchant, joined the campaign for Mother’s Day
- Also in 1908: the first bill was presented in the U.S. Senate proposing the establishment of Mother’s Day, by Nebraska Senator Elmer Burkett, at the request of the Young Men’s Christian Association. The proposal was killed by sending it back to committee, 33-14.
- 1909: Mother’s Day services were held in 46 states plus Canada and Mexico.
- Anna Jarvis gave up her job—sometimes reported as a teaching job, sometimes as a job clerking in an insurance office—to work full-time writing letters to politicians, clergy members, business leaders, women’s clubs and anyone else she thought might have some influence.
- Anna Jarvis was able to enlist the World’s Sunday School Association in the lobbying campaign, a key success factor in convincing legislators in states and in the U.S. Congress to support the holiday.
- 1912: West Virginia became the first state to adopt an official Mother’s Day.
- 1914: the U.S. Congress passed a Joint Resolution, and President Woodrow Wilson signed it, establishing Mother’s Day, emphasizing women’s role in the family (not as activists in the public arena, as Howe’s Mother’s Day had been)
- Texas Senators Cotton Tom Heflin and Morris Shepard introduced the joint resolution adopted in 1914. Both were ardent prohibitionists.
- Anna Jarvis became increasingly concerned over the commercialization of Mother’s Day: “I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit.” She opposed the selling of flowers (see below) and also the use of greeting cards: “a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write.”
- 1923: Anna Jarvis filed suit against New York Governor Al Smith, over a Mother’s Day celebration; when a court threw the suit out, she began a public protest and was arrested for disturbing the peace.
- 1931: Anna Jarvis criticized Eleanor Roosevelt for her work with a Mother’s Day committee that was not Jarvis’ committee.
- Anna Jarvis never had children of her own. She died in 1948, blind and penniless, and was buried next to her mother in a cemetery in the Philadelphia area.
Even before Anna Jarvis, there was another Mother of Mother’s Day in the U.S., Julia Ward Howe, who wrote the lyrics to Battle Hymn of the Republic. She was an abolitionist and advocate of women’s right to vote. As a peace activist she wanted mothers around the world to “protest what [she saw] as the futility of their Sons killing the Sons of other Mothers.” Even though her marriage was emotionally stifling, Julia Ward Howe managed to get her voice heard. Read her Mother’s Day Proclamation. Written in 1870, it is heartbreakingly relevant today.
What fascinating women! Let’s remember them as we celebrate Mother’s Day with our families.