Though the idea of setting aside a day
to honor mothers might seem to have ancient roots, our observance of Mother's Day is not
quite a century old. It originated from the efforts of a devoted daughter who believed
that grown children, preoccupied with their own families, too often neglect their
mothers.That daughter, Miss Anna Jarvis, a West Virginia schoolteacher, set out to rectify
Born in 1864, Anna Jarvis attended school in Grafton, West Virginia. Her
close ties with her mother made attending Mary Baldwin College, in Stanton, Virginia,
difficult. But Anna was determined to acquire an education. Upon graduation, she returned
to her hometown as a certified public school teacher.
The death of her father in 1902 compelled Anna and her mother to live with relatives in
Philadelphia. Three years later, her mother died on May 9, leaving Anna grief-stricken.
Though by every measure she had not been an exemplary daughter, she found herself consumed
with guilt for all the things she had not done for her mother. For two years these
feelings germinated, bearing the fruit of an idea in 1907. On the second Sunday in May,
the anniversary of her mothers death, Anna Jarvis invited a group of friends to her
Philadelphia home. Her announced idea-for an annual nationwide celebration to be called
Mothers Day-met with unanimous support. She tested the idea on others. Mothers felt
that such an act of recognition was long overdue. Every child concurred. No father
dissented. A friend, John Wanamaker, Americas number one clothing merchant, offered
financial backing. Early in the spring of 1908, Miss Jarvis wrote to the superintendent of
Andrews Methodist Sunday School, in Grafton, where her mother had taught a weekly religion
class for twenty years. She suggested that the local church would be the ideal location
for a celebration in her mothers honor.
By extension, all mothers present would receive recognition. So on May 10, 1908, the
first Mothers Day service was held in Grafton, West Virginia, attended by 407
children and their mothers. At the conclusion of that service, Miss Jarvis presented each
mother and child with a flower: a carnation, her own mothers favorite. It launched a
Mothers Day tradition.
To suggest that the idea of an annual Mothers Day celebration met with immediate
public acceptance is perhaps an understatement. Few proposed holidays have had so much
nationwide support, so little special-interest-group dissension. The House of
Representatives quickly passed a Mothers Day resolution. However, resolution stalled
in the Senate.
A determined Anna Jarvis then began what has been called one of the most successful
one-person letter-writing campaigns in history. She contacted congressmen, governors,
mayors, newspaper editors, ministers, and business leaders throughout the country,
everyone of importance who would listen. Listen they did, responding with editorials,
sermons, and political orations. Villages and towns, cities and states, began unofficial
Mothers Day observances. By 1914, to dissent on the Mothers Day issue seemed
not only cynical but un-American. Finally, the Senate approved the legislation, and on May
8, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation designating the second Sunday in
May as Mothers Day.