If she were alive today, the creator of modern Mother’s Day might very well stomp on your cards and flowers. Yes, Anna Jarvis, the woman who’s credited with solidifying the American version of Mother’s Day, denounced the holiday after it became commercialized. She spent the golden years of her life — and most of her personal money — trying to remove it from the calendar!
The celebration of motherhood dates back to the Greeks and Romans, who organized huge festivals to pay homage to mother goddesses such as Rhea and Cybele. An early Christian festival known as “Mothering Day” was celebrated on the fourth Sunday during lent, which set the time for the modern holiday in the spring. That religious observance eventually became a more secular celebration with children presenting their mothers with small tokens of their appreciation.
Before the civil war, Ann Reeves Jarvis helped to start “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” in West Virginia, teaching local women how to better care for their children. Her daughter, Anna Jarvis, followed her mother’s footsteps and organized the first official Mother’s Day in 1905. Unmarried and without children herself, the younger Jarvis believed American holidays were biased toward male achievements and felt at least one day a year should be put aside for honoring motherhood. In addition to a vigorous letter-writing campaign, Jarvis promoted her cause by establishing the Mother’s Day International Association. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson officially established the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
By 1920, Jarvis began denouncing Mother’s Day due to the takeover of commercialism. She urged people to stop buying cards and flowers and considered florists and confectioners to be “Mother’s Day profiteers.” She spent much of her personal wealth filing lawsuits against groups who used the name “Mother’s Day.” Before her death in 1948, Jarvis even lobbied the government to remove Mother’s Day from the American calendar.
Traditions such as serving mom breakfast in bed and making her homemade cards of appreciation may be more in line with what the holiday’s founder had in mind, but flowers and candy are still a nice touch.