Moms in the United States have been honored on Mother’s Day for over 100 years thanks to the efforts of Anna Jarvis, considered to be the “creator” of Mother’s Day. However, the holiday in the United States isn’t actually the invention of Anna Jarvis. Julia Ward Howe first established Mother’s Day in 1870 but it didn’t really catch on. Enter Anna Jarvis and her attempt to honor her mother, and all mothers, beginning in 1908.
Anna Jarvis was born in West Virginia in 1864 to Ann Marie and Granville Jarvis. She was one of eleven children. The Jarvis family moved from Webster to Grafton when Anna was an infant. She grew up and attended Augusta Female Academy where she earned her teaching credentials.
After trying to honor her mother’s wishes, Jarvis found that adult children were not very forthcoming in honoring their own mothers. This made her more resolute in establishing Mother’s Day because she longed to see this trend become a thing of the past. By 1907, Jarvis began aggressively campaigning for the establishment of a national Mother’s Day. It started in her own church where she passed out white carnations to all of the mothers of Andrews Methodist Church. By 1908 the holiday was also celebrated in Philadelphia, where Anna had moved.
The push to establish a national holiday to honor mothers took off as Jarvis’ supporters began writing letters and Jarvis herself spoke on many occasions. By 1909, forty-five states were observing Mother’s Day by giving mothers white carnations, which Jarvis said represented the purity of a mother’s heart. The holiday continued to increase in popularity until President Woodrow Wilson formally announced the second Sunday in May as a national holiday.
In the end, however, the holiday that was meant to encourage children to spend time with their mother and make her feel special actually turned out very differently. Jarvis became disillusioned with the commercialization of the holiday that she had worked so hard to make a reality.
Anna Jarvis died in 1948 at the age of 84. Her birthplace in Webster, West Virginia stands as a memorial to the ‘mother’ of Mother’s Day. It’s ironic that after spending so much time helping to establish the holiday, she wished she’d never created it.
Mother’s Day is still a commercial holiday, but perhaps Anna Jarvis’ efforts weren’t totally in vain. Mother’s Day is celebrated throughout the United States and around the world to honor mothers everywhere.