Anna Jarvis, the Founder of Mother’s Day Would be Disgusted!

It may look like the canola is blooming, but it’s only dandelions!


A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.

—Anna Jarvis

source: The Free Dictionary


I like to receive presents and special treatment on Mother’s Day just like anyone else, but I think Anna Jarvis has a good point. Isn’t it preferable that our children offer a form of sincere gratitude for what we do for them rather than sending a card or flowers out of obligation? I don’t have a problem with a day set aside to honor mothers (they are the glue that binds the family together), but the enormous commercialization of the holiday cheapens the original intent of its founder, Anna Jarvis.

The idea of celebrating Mother’s Day goes back to the late 1800’s. The story goes likes this: Anna was around 12 years old when she heard her own mother say a small prayer to end a class about Mother’s of the Bible. The request was,

“I hope that someone, sometime will found a memorial mothers day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.”  This simple prayer impressed Anna and she never forgot it.

Anna’s mother died on May 12,1905 and it was at her mother’s graveside that Anna vowed that her mother’s prayer would be answered.  She was determined to make her mother’s dream come true. At a church service two years after her mother’s death, she gave a small tribute to honor her. This was the beginning of Anna’s campaign to have a day set aside as a national holiday to commemorate mothers.

Gaining Support

At first her idea received a cool response. But after a concerted effort by supporters, through much letter writing and Anna’s own ability as a public speaker, the word got around that a day should be set aside to memorialize mothers. By 1911, Mother’s Day was celebrated in almost every state of the union. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made the announcement proclaiming it a national holiday to be celebrated each year on the 2nd Sunday in May.

While this made Anna happy to have fulfilled her mother’s dream of setting aside a day to remember mothers, the more commercialized the holiday became the more she wished she hadn’t started the tradition at all.  The purpose of the day was meant for children to show gratitude to the woman who gave them birth and life. Through visits, letters, or phone calls, children would make their mothers feel special. It was hoped that children would express their love and appreciation in verbal ways and thoughtful actions; not by giving a store-bought card or gift.

Retailers report that 30.7 billion dollars were spent this past Mother’s Day; a fine example of commercialization and spending by consumers on a holiday which Anna Jarvis came to scorn.

As for my Mother’s Day, a vase of hand-picked dandelions gave simple elegance to a breakfast table of homemade blueberry pancakes and coffee.  It was a quiet Sunday at home (I think much like Anna Jarvis would have imagined it) that ended with a blast when my husband, David, shot a wild turkey just off the front lawn.


You may also like: Memories of Valentine’s Day


2 thoughts on “Anna Jarvis, the Founder of Mother’s Day Would be Disgusted!

  1. Marlene,
    I’m a freelance writer working on a Montana Tourism/National Geographic Traveler multimedia website project, and came across an earlier entry of yours related to huckleberry picking. I was hoping to send you a couple of questions to get your personal insights into the topic (this is a travel site focused on authentic, local travel experiences). We would include your name and quote, hometown, and title on the site. If you can participate, I’ll only take a few minutes of your time. Thanks for considering. I enjoy your blog!

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