The Mother of Mother's Day

The nation celebrates Mother’s Day each year because of one Philadelphian woman’s determination. Didn’t know that?  Well, here’s the heart-warming yet depressing story of how one woman gave birth to the national holiday.

Sure, the ritual of honoring mothers started way before our time with the Egyptians celebrating goddess Isis (Mother of the pharaohs), the Romans honoring Cybele (the Great Mother) and the Greeks memorializing Rhea (mother of most deities).  

But, the first American mom's day concept came with the Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870 thanks to Julia Ward Howe. She was distressed by the Civil War and called for mothers to protest “sons killing the sons of other mothers.” June 2 was designated as Mother’s Day and Howe paid for the celebrations. That's great and all, but once she stopped funding the parties, the holiday fell apart.

So, in comes Philadlephia's Anna M. Jarvis. Her mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia, was a leader of a women’s group and worked to continue celebrating Howe’s holiday through Mother’s Friendship Day.

It's rumored that Anna had an argument with her mother and never had the chance to reconcile before her mother's death. So, Anna swore to honor the memory of her mother by making Mother’s Day a national holiday. She up and quit her job to spend her days writing letters to any politician, business and women’s group who would listen. 

In 1908, the first Mother’s Day celebration took place in West Virginny at Andrew’s Methodist Church (Jarvis’ mother’s church of 20 years) and a church right here in Philadelphia. Six years later, Woodrow Wilson signed the holiday into national observance, declaring the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

Go Anna!

Then, in came commercialization of the holiday—it was bound to happen. Anna fought the “exploitation” by the flower industry saying "I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit." She also fought greeting card companies stating cards were "a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write."

But, as we all know, Mother’s Day is the day cash flows. It’s second to Christmas in gift giving for crying out loud! Mother’s Day is a $14 billion industry, according to the National Retail Foundation. Florists see their highest sales in May, long distance calls peak  and 96 percent of Americans shop for Mother’s Day, according to Hallmark

Anna must be turning in her grave.

Sadly, Anna died poor, blind, and ironically, childless. And worse yet, the Florists Exchange paid for her care.

She is buried next to her mother in West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, Pa.

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