Did you know the founder of Mother’s Day spent the rest of her life trying to stop it? It’s an interesting story, really. Here are a few fun facts you might not have known about the holiday in its 100th anniversary year (which you’re probably better off not sharing with your mom, unless you do…see below).
Mother’s Day was the brainchild of women’s organizer Ann Reeves Jarvis who, in the 1850s, organized Mother’s Day work clubs with a mission to improve sanitary conditions and reduce milk contamination in order to lower infant mortality rates. The groups also cared for wounded soldiers on both sides during the U.S. Civil War from 1861 to 1865.
After the war, Mother’s Day lived on through Jarvis’ Mother’s Friendship Day picnics and gatherings organized to encourage unity during the country’s rough time of unrest. Other women activists like Julia Ward Howe (of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” fame) issued the “Mother’s Day Proclamation” in 1870, an appeal for women to participate politically in promoting peace.
But the special day didn’t come until Ann’s devoted daughter Anna Jarvis made it so. When her mother died in 1905, she pushed hard for a day of Mother commemoration. And by 1908, May 10th became Mother’s Day.
By 1914 President Woodrow Wilson officially set the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
Anna Jarvis meant for this to be a personal and intimate day, giving praise and thanks to your mother, not every mother on God’s given earth. White carnations were her mother’s favorite flower, so she used it to symbolize the day. But soon everyone started to do the same.
By the time the flower industry caught wind of this, Anna was already in a tizzy. She actively spoke out against the florists, greeting card manufacturers and the confectionery industry calling them “charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations.”
She organized boycotts, crashed conventions, made threats and unsuccessfully tried to trademark Mother’s Day to regain control of it. She criticized First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for using Mother’s Day to raise funds for charities and fought against the commercialization and consumerist takeover of the holiday until she died in 1948, penniless in an insane asylum. No lie.
It sounds rather dark, but really it’s a bittersweet reminder that honoring your mother need not be an act in crazy gift-buying and Hallmark-stylized greetings. Anna Jarvis is painted as this sort of mother-loving nutball, but maybe she was right. Why not bring it back to its simplest form of mom appreciation? And if your mother is disappointed she didn’t receive the biggest, blooming bouquet and a new addition to her Pandora charm bracelet, hand her a white carnation, look her in the eyes and tell her you love her. If that doesn’t work, follow it up with that Anna Jarvis line about “charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and termites…”
We love you mom!
Read more fun Mother’s Day cultural facts at National Geographic.