A Brief History of Mother’s Day & How It Came To Be Celebrated


These days, Mother’s Day seems to be all about Hallmark cards and restaurant specials, but the holiday has a rich history, which dates back over 100 years.  Not that you really need a reason to celebrate your mother, but I’m sure there are curious folks who have wondered why the celebration happens every May.  Here’s a brief history of Mother’s Day and how it came to be celebrated in the United States.

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Anna Jarvis, a woman from West Virginia is credited as the founder of the tradition that is Mother’s Day.  However it was actually her mother, Ann Jarvis who spearheaded the idea of “Mother’s Friendship Day.”  The original purpose was actually to honor mother’s who had sons serving in the Civil War.  The day was an opportunities for families to come together from both sides of the war and it was first celebrated in 1968.  At the time it was very local, but by the late 1870’s the celebration had moved to New York City and to Michigan.  Many of those celebrations would carry an anti-war sentiment.

After Ann Jarvis passed in on May 9, 1905, Anna Jarvis would pick up the intensity for a national holiday.  She would get help from people in Philadelphia and in New York, and in May of 1908 Anna would get an official church service to honor Mother’s Day, once again in West Virginia.  The holiday was declared official by the state of West Virginia in 1910.

Over the next couple of years, many states would declare their own commemorative Mother’s Day.  Three years later, on May 10, 1913, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on all federal government officials (from the president down) to wear a white carnation the following day in observance of Mother’s Day.  A year later, on May 8, 1914, U.S. Congress passed a law designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day and requesting a proclamation. President Woodrow Wilson would follow through the next day, issuing an official proclamation declaring Mother’s Day as a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war.  As per Congress, the holiday would be celebrated on the second Sunday of May every year.

Ironically, Anna Jarvis would later become the biggest opponent of the holiday she helped create.  She knew the origins and she hoped others would understand that the holiday had absolutely nothing to do with commercialism.  Ideally, for her concept of Mother’s Day, folks would visit their mothers, wear carnations and attend church service.  She tried to stop companies from using the holiday for purposes of selling flowers and cards, even taking legal action against several companies.  Obviously she would not prevail, although she continued to fight until she passed in 1948.

Today, Mother’s Day is the third most popular holiday for giving cards, flowers and other gifts.

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