Celebrations of mothers date back centuries, but the American holiday has its roots in the post-Civil War era.
Ann Reeves Jarvis had served as founder of Mother’s Day work clubs that were meant to educate women in her West Virginia community in the proper care and feeding of children.
After peace was declared in America, these clubs helped heal lingering divisions as mothers of soldiers on both sides reclaimed a sense of fellowship and community. Elsewhere, abolitionist Julia Ward Howe composed the Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870, asking them to unite against war. hope was to create an annual Mother’s Peace Day, to be celebrated on June 2.
Temperance activist Juliet Calhoun Blakely and the duo of Frank Hiring and Mary Towles Sasseen were also working separately to organize their own local events.
NEW NATIONAL HOLIDAY
Ann Reeves Jarvis’ daughter, Anna, continued the effort after her mother died in 1905. Anna began by seeking financial backing from a Philadelphia department-store owner in the hopes of organizing the first official Mother’s Day, which would now focus on the sacrifices made in raising children.
The long-waited first celebration, in May 1908, was based in a local Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia, but also saw large gatherings at each of John Wanamaker stores. The younger Jarvis then started a letter-writing campaign to get Mother’s Day added to a national calendar that she said too often focused on male achievement.
Many individual churches, towns and even states had begun to celebrate the holiday annually by 1912. All of it led to President Woodrow Wilson’s 1914 signing of a measure that established the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
Like many holidays, Mother’s Day became increasingly commercialized. Jarvis had conceived of the day as one for personal celebrations with family. Before long, however, the holiday also inevitably became associated with floral arrangements, candy makers and confectioners, greeting card companies and merchant sales — And this deeply upset Jarvis. By 1920, she could be found openly denouncing the holiday she’d once championed, urging others to follow the commemoration back to its simple origins. She filed a number of lawsuits trying to stop retailers and other groups from Anna Jarvis actually lobbied the federal government to remove Mother’s Day from the calendar before her death in 1948. using “Mother’s Day” in promotional materials, losing her personal wealth to attorneys fees.