The Story of Mother’s Day

The Story of Mother’s Day

Excerpted from “Mother’s Day and the Mother’s Day Church” by Howard H. Wolfe and a compilation by LeNore Kerber’s mother. LeNore’s step-father’s grandparents were Sunday School classmates with Miss Anna Jarvis.

“They suffer so much and receive so little in return. We never appreciate them until they are gone.” This is the tribute to mothers that accompanied the first Mother’s Day.

Contrary to what some may believe, Mother’s Day was not set aside or established because of a sudden inspiration nor by Hallmark, but because of the hard work of a dedicated woman and her daughter over the course of 50 years.

More than a century ago, the idea of a mother’s memorial day appealed to a young Virginia mother, Mrs. Anna Marie Reeves Jarvis, whose remarkable talents and capabilities enabled her to set the stage for the founding of just such a day. Her accomplishments were realized through a philosophy of appealing to that “innate characteristic of all men known as love and devotion for mothers” or motherhood, in general. Her Mother’s Day Work Clubs, formed in 1858 to improve health and sanitation conditions in various towns in what was then rural Virginia (and became West Virginia in 1861), and her Mothers Friendship Days formed just after the Civil War in an attempt to heal the divisions of many families in the area caused by the war were large steps in the establishment of such a memorial.

The death of Mrs. Jarvis in 1905 might have put an end to the movement altogether, had it not been for her daughter, Miss Anna Jarvis, who would finally be successful in establishing such a Memorial Mother’s Day, to pay homage to all mothers, living or dead. Through her love and devotion to her mother’s dream, Miss Jarvis would bring that dream to reality. She dedicated her entire resources in promotion of this movement.

Being an able and fluent speaker, she passed up no opportunity to promote her project. As is often the case, many of her appeals fell on deaf ears. She soon discovered she needed real and significant support in this crusade if she were to succeed. Support in the form of personal services, materials, and money were needed, so she enlisted the influence and support of many famous and influential personalities such as John Wanamaker, H.J. Heinz, Woodrow Wilson, William Jennings Bryan, Congressman Thomas Heflin of Alabama, Senator Morris Sheppard of Texas, Governor William Glasscock of West Virginia, and Russell H. Conwell (“Acres of Diamonds”).
On the second anniversary of her death (in 1906), friends of Mrs. Anna M. Jarvis at the Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, WV held a brief unofficial Mother’s Day service. The sanctuary was decorated with flowers in her honor and brief but reverent eulogies were spoken. The greater movement had begun.

Over the next year, Miss Jarvis created the Official Mother’s Day Committee. She obtained a copyright reserving the rights to the title, her picture, and other matters pertaining to this observance. On the third anniversary of her mother’s death, Anna Jarvis asked the congregation of Andrews Church to present a well-planned, official, and authentic program in the morning of May 10, 1908. Miss Jarvis herself, conducted a similar program at John Wanamaker’s department store auditorium in Philadelphia in the afternoon of the same day. The second event was given tremendous publicity by the Philadelphia newspapers, one of which printed five million copies, with demand for as many more. Mr. Wanamaker had sponsored the publicity by relinquishing his usual advertising space, thus immortalizing his name by supporting this cause with his fabulous wealth and influence. Mr. Wanamaker later would say, “I would rather have the honor of establishing this Mother’s Day than I would be the King of England.”

In 1909, the Seattle Presbyterian Assembly dedicated the second Sunday in May for sermons to mothers. Parishioners were urged to write letters of love to their mothers, if living, and to wear a white carnation, if deceased. Red carnations were to be worn for a living mother.
In 1910, William Glasscock, Governor of West Virginia issued a proclamation and requested that Sunday, May 5 be observed in all churches as Mother’s Day.

In 1912, the General Conference of the Methodist Church recognized Miss Anna Jarvis as the founder of Mother’s Day – not Mr. Wanamaker. That year, the governors of Texas and Oklahoma also issued Mother’s Day proclamations.

In 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed a resolution passed by the U.S. Congress confirming and setting aside the second Sunday of May to be observed annually as Mother’s Day. The display of the American Flag was part of this resolution in recognition of mothers as source of the country’s strength.

During the waning years of her life, Anna Jarvis railed against confectioners, florists and card printers and was known to have said, “candy is junk” and “flowers are about half-dead by the time they’re delivered.” She felt that a store-bought card sent to your mother was “a maudlin, insincere card…meaning nothing except that you’re too lazy to write.” Today, the Andrews Memorial Methodist Church of Grafton, WV, the Mother-Church of Mother’s Day, holds services only once yearly on Mother’s Day. This century-and-a-half year old shrine with hand-carved pews and stained-glass windows is open for those interested in viewing the history of Mother’s Day most other days during the year.

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