History of Mother’s Day


Elena Keller

The history behind Mother’s Day is actually surprisingly dark, with one woman’s fight over the sanctity of the holiday she founded leading to her own desolation. But the more ancient history behind this holiday started hundreds of years ago.


According to History.com, the tradition of honoring mothers can be traced all the way back to the ancient Greeks and Romans who held festivals to honor mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele. A more modern precedent to Mother’s Day was the Christian tradition of “Mothering Sunday.”


“Mothering Sunday” was a holiday celebrated in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe where Christians would return to their “mother church” or the main church near their childhood home. This holiday would come to die out and would eventually be replaced by Mother’s Day.


The actual founder behind the Mother’s Day we celebrate today is greatly debated and there are several individuals whose work led to the formation of the holiday. One of these individuals is Ann Reeves Jarvis.


According to Time magazine, Jarvis’ reason for wanting to commemorate mothers is due to her own tragic history with motherhood. Jarvis had 13 children with only four living to adulthood. This led her to create Mother’s Day Work Clubs in the years before the Civil War in order to educate mothers on hygiene practices that will help keep their children healthy.


In 1868, Jarvis also organized Mother’s Friendship Day where mothers gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote amiability. Another woman who sought to use mothers to promote peace was Julia Ward Howe. 


In 1870, Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” a call on mothers to promote world peace and, in 1873, Howe proposed a “Mother’s Peace Day” celebrated every June 2. Other Mother’s Day pioneers were Juliet Calhoun Blakely, Mary Towles Sasseen, and Frank Hering. 


But the true founder of Mother’s Day is often credited to Anna Jarvis, Anne Reeves Jarvis’ daughter, who used her mother’s death as motivation to start the holiday. On May 10, 1908, Jarvis sent 500 white carnations to Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in honor of her mother’s death and held a celebration in Philadelphia, which is considered to be the first Mother’s Day.


After that date, Jarvis committed to the formation of a Mother’s Day, but instead of using the holiday as a way to educate mothers like her mother wanted to, she instead wanted it to be a date where children honored their mothers. 


Jarvis began to use her background in advertising to start a massive letter writing campaign to newspapers and politicians to encourage the formation of the holiday, not just to honor mothers but also because American holidays were more biased towards male achievements. 


In 1914, Jarvis finally got what she wanted and President Woodrow Wilson officially recognized the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. After becoming a national holiday, florists, card companies, and confectioneries saw Mother’s Day as a way to make money.


As Mother’s Day became more and more commercialized, Jarvis began to campaign against her own holiday. According to National Geographic, Jarvis once said, “If the American people are not willing to protect Mother’s Day from the hordes of money schemers that would overwhelm it with their schemes, then we shall cease having a Mother’s Day—and we know how.”

Jarvis would frequently speak out against florists, confectioneries, and even charities who profited off the holiday. Jarvis would also use her inheritance to open lawsuits against those who used the name “Mother’s Day” and it was reported she had 33 lawsuits open simultaneously. 


Using all of her money to fight against people who used the name “Mother’s Day” led to Jarvis becoming destitute. This led to Jarvis dying blind and broke at the age of 84. Ironically, the “mother” of Mother’s Day would die without having any children.


Although the founder of Mother’s Day would abhor the people who buy gifts for their mothers during this holiday, people should still find ways to honor their mothers this Sunday.