Today is the 110th year since the death of Ann Reeves Jarvis, the mother of Anna Jarvis, who was the sparkplug behind the official establishment of a day to honor American mothers.
Mother’s Day is the nation’s busiest day for restaurants, since Mom gets taken out to eat (or breakfast in bed, or both), and she is honored with cards, gifts (preferably handmade), jewelry (often Mother’s rings with the birthstones of her children) and carnations, Ann Jarvis’ favorite flower.
It is now customary to wear a red carnation if your mother is still alive or a white one if she is not. This holiday to honor mothers seems like a good idea, a day to say, “Thanks, mom,” and give her recognition otherwise unheralded.
My own preference was for 24 hours of relative solitude, but with four children and a busy life, that was rarely part of the celebration.
Anna Jarvis followed her mother as a social activist, working tirelessly to get the holiday established. But she soon fell out with the commercialism of the day, saying that the whole idea was taken over by the profit motives of the florists, jewelers, restaurants, candy-makers and card designers, bemoaning that “a printed card means ... you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”
She did not regard Mother’s Day as a “Hallmark Holiday” and spent much time and most of her money to oppose the dilution of what began as a sincere sentimental honoring of her own mother.
Her mother’s death on May 9, 1905, the second Sunday of the month, determined the holiday, and Anna Jarvis held a memorial ceremony to honor her mother and all mothers on May 10, 1908, the first official observance of Mother’s Day. She worked for years to establish this as a national and later international holiday, until on May 10, 1913, the U. S. House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for all officials from the president on down to wear a white carnation the next day, Sunday, to honor mothers.
On May 8, 1914, the U.S. Congress passed a law marking the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day, and President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation the next day declaring the first national Mother’s Day, with flags flying, to honor those mothers whose sons had died in war.
Franklin Roosevelt approved a stamp for this holiday in 1934. In May 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives officially approved Mother’s Day as a national holiday, without the war trappings that limited it in past commemorations.
Even though others had tried to honor American mothers with a day of their own, these attempts were usually tied to promoting peace in memory of women who had lost or could lose their sons (and now daughters) to war.
Ann Reeves Jarvis wanted a Mother’s Friendship Day to “reunite families that had been divided during the Civil War” and organized Mother’s Day Work Clubs that were dedicated to health and sanitation for sons on both sides of that conflict.
Even Julia Ward Howe, author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” led an anti-war Mother’s Day for Peace in 1872, but this tradition faded when she died.
Anna Jarvis was adamant that she was responsible for this holiday, incorporating the Mother’s Day International Association in 1912, and the holiday has spread throughout every state and many foreign countries.
But the billion-dollar commercialization of the day has remained, and Anna Jarvis died in 1948 at age 84 without profiting from her idea.
She lived her final years with her sister and in 1944 became a resident of the Marshall Square Sanitarium in West Chester, Pennsylvania. At her death, she was buried in the family plot in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. She never married, and she had no children.
Today, call your mother and write her a letter — no card or email — and wish her a Happy Mother’s Day. She will love it, and won’t care if it’s a little late.
Karen Cookson of Sharon Springs is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.