The beginning of Mother’s Day

An early Mother’s Day card in the archives collection of the Monroe County Historical Association. The image on the front of the card is a reproduction of James McNeill Whistler’s 1871 painting, “Arrangement in Grey and Black,” more popularly known as “Whistler’s Mother.”
By Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association

The celebration of Mother’s Day unofficially began in the early 1900s. Anna Jarvis was born outside the small town of Grafton, W. Va., in 1864 to Granville and Ann Marie Jarvis. As a child, young Anna watched her mother volunteer for a number of social causes to better their hometown. For example, Anna’s Mom, Ann Marie, worked to provide nursing care to Civil War veterans and fought for better sanitation practices for her community.

When Ann Marie died on May 9, 1905, her daughter began working to acknowledge her mother’s contributions to society. In 1907, two years after her mother’s passing, Anna invited her friends to her home to celebrate her mother’s life. From this small gathering, the idea of a mother’s day holiday developed that would “honor mothers, living and dead.”

In the spring of 1908, Anna handed-out white carnations to the women members of St. Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton who were mothers. White carnations were chosen because they were Anna’s mother’s favorite flower. St. Andrew’s Church was chosen because Anna’s mother had taught classes there for 20 years. The distribution of white carnations and the public support honoring all mothers increased in popularity in the town of Grafton, and the first Mother’s Day service was delivered at St. Andrew’s Church on May 10, 1910. Anna had created the “Mother’s Day Association” and the custom of distributing white carnations to all mothers on the second Sunday in May spread across the United States.

Anna continued to lobby for a national memorial day to celebrate mothers. In 1913, the members of the House of Representatives adopted a resolution for government officials to wear white carnations on Mother’s Day. Anna continued to work with prominent businessman and politicians, and on May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill recognizing Mother’s Day as a national holiday emphasizing women's role in the family. This holiday would be observed as the second Sunday of each May.

Local celebrations were held the following year in 1915 with special services and exercises held at various Sunday schools. According to
The Morning Press, The Stroudsburg Presbyterian Church held a “Parents’ Day” instead of only a Mother’s Day. Led by C.B. Eilenberger and Rev. Karl von Krug, white carnations were distributed to all present and the church was decorated for the occasion with “flags, palms, flowers and other festoons.”

Over the next eight years, Anna Jarvis became upset by the increased commercialization of Mother’s Day. Anna is quoted as having said, "I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit.”

In 1923, Anna filed a lawsuit to stop a Mother’s Day celebration. She worked to stop the distribution of carnations and was arrested for disturbing the peace. Anna spent the rest of her life campaigning against Mother’s Day. She spent her inheritance working to undue the national holiday. Anna Jarvis died penniless on Nov. 24, 1948. Anna Jarvis was never married and did not have any children. She is buried in the West Laurel Cemetery in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

Today, St. Andrew’s M.E. Church still stands and is registered as a National Historic Landmark. It is now the International Mother’s Day Shrine and Museum and is open to the public for tours and special events, including weddings.