Anna Jarvis – The Founder of Mother’s Day Who Later Regretted for Doing So

“I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother’s day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.”

— Ann Reeves Jarvis

This wish of Ann Reeves came to be true as her daughter Anna Jarvis founded the ‘Mother’s Day’ holiday in the United States. Anna Jarvis, who neither married nor bored any child, conceived of Mother’s Day as an occasion for honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children. However, Anna Jarvis, in the later period of her life, turned bitter against her inception of Mother’s Day, owing to its commercialization and the consequent corruption of its principles.


Early Life and Works

Born in 1864, Anna Jarvis was the daughter of social activist Ann Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia. Notably, it was Ann’s friend, Julia Ward Howe, who first started mother’s day celebration in 1870, though her initiative never got recognition and success. However, during the American civil war, Ann Reeves set up Mothers’ Day Work Clubs, and by making peace between people, she became a unifying force within her community.

Inspired by her mother’s community work, Anna too wanted to contribute to the cause. Anna attended what is now known as Mary Baldwin University. On completion of her two years course, Anna returned to her home to work in the public school system, additionally joining her mother as an active church member.

Afterward, on the proposal of her uncle, Anna Jarvis moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and worked there at a bank for over a year. The next year, Jarvis again shifted to Philadelphia, where she lived with her brother. Anna Jarvis was successful there,  enjoying a good position at a reputed life insurance firm. Further, she also got shares in her brother’s business.

While Anna was away from Grafton, she always maintained a close correspondence with her mother. Ann Reeves was happy for her daughter’s achievements. After the death of Jarvis’ father, in 1902, she urged her mother to move to Philadelphia to stay with her. Jarvis spent the most of her time taking care of her mother till Ann Reeves ultimately died on May 9, 1905.

The inception of Mothers’ Day

After Ann Reeves’s death, Jarvis became more concerned with her mother’s wish – that of setting up a Mother’s Day celebration. Continuing her mother’s dream of honoring the mothers around the world, in May of 1908, Anna Jarvis organized the first Mother’s Day functions at a local church where her mother taught, as well as at a department store in Philadelphia, where she lived at the time. Soon after, Jarvis started writing to newspapers and politicians and asked to make the Mother’s Day a holiday.

By 1912, many other towns and states saw celebrations on Mother’s Day. Later, Jarvis had founded an international association of Mother’s Day. At last, in 1914, her campaign paid off as the then President approved the Mother’s Day and the 2nd Sunday of May was officially recognized as the memorializing day.


The Disillusionment

Markedly, the floral industry once hugely supported Anna’s movement with donations. Once it became the custom to wear carnations on Mother’s Day, florists started making a profit out of it. Even, they came up with an idea to boost sales by promoting the cult of using red or bright flowers to pay respect to living mothers, and white for the departed ones.

Jarvis, who saw Mother’s Day as a special occasion—a son or daughter honoring the mother they adored—, soon grew disenchanted, as Mother’s Day almost became centered on the exchange of greeting cards, flowers, candies, and presents.


Seeking to uphold the ideals of the holiday she founded, Jarvis went to crusade against those industries which made a profit of Mother’s Day. She filed lawsuits against groups using the name ‘Mother’s Day,’ which consequently brought her financial problems.

In 1925, when an organization in Philadelphia exploited Mother’s Day as an occasion for fundraising, Jarvis crashed their convention, where she got herself arrested for creating the discord. Later, she even attacked Eleanor Roosevelt, the then First Lady of the US, who too picked up Mother’s Day for collecting charitable donations. By the 1940s, Jarvis had already renounced the holiday altogether, and even actively sought the government to abolish it.


However, Anna’s efforts to discontinue the occasion of Mother’s Day were all in vain.  Regular campaigning and the harsh outcomes had already made her feeble and cynical. In her last days, she was admitted to the Marshall Square Sanitarium, Pennsylvania. At last, Anna Jarvis took her last breath on November 24, 1948. It is said that some people connected with the floral and card industries paid the bills of her treatment.

Mother’s Day – At present

Though having a controversial history, Mother’s Day is still much popular—and the economics around it too. A commercially successful American holiday, it is now one of the most popular days to dine out in the US.  Moreover, it is roughly estimated that people spend billions on flowers, pampering gifts, and greeting cards. And, the trend continues to grow with each year.


Remembering the Woman Behind Mother’s Day: Anna Jarvis

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