In the United States, it was in 1876 that Anna Jarvis, an Appalachian homemaker, organized a day to raise awareness of poor health conditions in her community, a cause she believed would be best advocated by mothers. She called it “Mother’s Work Day.” Then in 1901, Julia Ward Howe, a Boston poet, pacifist, suffragist, and author of the lyrics to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” organized a day encouraging mothers to rally for peace, since she believed mothers mourned the loss of human life more harshly than anyone else.
When Anna Jarvis died, her daughter, also named Anna, began a campaign to remember the life work of her mother. It is said that young Anna remembered a Sunday school lesson that her mother gave in which she said, “I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother’s day. There are many days for men, but none for mothers.” Finally in 1914, Anna’s hard work paid off when President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill recognizing Mother’s Day as a national holiday.
Initially, people observed Mother’s Day by attending church, writing letters to their mothers, and eventually, by sending cards, presents, and flowers. As the commercial gift-giving activity associated with Mother’s Day increased, Anna Jarvis became upset and disillusioned. She believed that the day’s sentiment was being ruined by greed and profit. In 1923, she filed a lawsuit to stop a Mother’s Day festival, and by the time of her death in 1948, Jarvis is said to have confessed that she regretted ever working to initiate the mother’s day tradition.
It was Thomas á Kempis (b. 1381) who said that “a wise lover values not so much the gift of the lover as the love of the giver.” Perhaps that is a good reminder as we approach celebrating the gift of our mothers this May 10, 2015.