The founder of Mother’s Day in the United States was Anna Jarvis. It became an official holiday in 1908, after she created it in 1904. However, Jarvis denounced the holiday later on in her life due to its commercialization. Despite her attempts to remove it from the calendar because of this, she was never able to.
On May 1, 1864, Anna Marie Jarvis was born in Webster, West Virginia to Granville E. and Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis. Ever since 1979, the Anna Jarvis House, which is where she was born, has been on the National Register of Historic Places. Anna was the ninth of her parents eleven children, however, seven of their children died in their childhood. Later on, they moved to Grafton, West Virginia.
Anna Jarvis’s mother was the founder of Mothers’ Day Work Clubs during the Civil War ad was friends with Julia Ward Howe. Howe had been the first to advocate for a day for mother’s in 1870. It is said that Anna Jarvis first got the idea for Mother’s Day during one of her mother’s Sunday school lessons.
With her father’s encouragement, Jarvis went to the Augusta Female Seminary (now Mary Baldwin University) for two years in Staunton, Virginia. Afterwards, she returned to Grafton and worked as a teacher while accompanying her mother and becoming an active member of the Andrews Methodists Episcopal Church.
Jarvis was persuaded to move to Chattanooga, Tennessee by Dr. James Edmund Reeves, her uncle. For a year, she worked as a bank teller in the city before moving to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with her brother. There, Jarvis worked at Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Company as the first female literary and advertizing editor for the company.
Though she and her mother were apart, Jarvis always kept up a close correspondence with her. Ann Jarvis was proud of all that her daughter had accomplished. When Jarvis’ father died in 1902, she and her brother tried to persuade their mother to move to Philadelphia with them. Eventually she did in 1904, but Ann’s health was declining and she was facing heart problems. On May 9, 1905, Ann Reeves Jarvis died.
Three years after the death of her mother, Jarvis held a memorial service to honor all mothers at the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church back home on Grafton. Today it is known as the International Mother’s Day Shrine. This was the first time Mother’s Day was officially observed. Jarvis did not attend the service, but did send a telegram to describe why the day was so significant.
Jarvis worked to preserve the sentimental heart of Mother’s Day as the founder. She found herself struggling against the commercialization of the holiday. Jarvis worried that the original message of the holiday was being taken over because of commercialization.
Originally, Jarvis used carnations as the symbol for mother’s day. The floral industry was increasing the prices of carnations more and more, and by 1920, they introduced red carnations. In an attempt to counter the industry, Jarvis created badges with the Mother’s Day emblem on them. She made many remarks on this, this being one of them:
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.
With all her efforts to preserve the original meaning of the holiday, it led to Jarvis’s economic hardship. Others profited greatly from the holiday she had created, but she made no profit out of it. By 1943, Jarvis had started a petition to take Mother’s Day off the calendar. But she placed in the Marshall Square Sanitarium in West Chester, Pennsylvania, which put an end to the efforts. To keep her in the sanitarium, those with connections to both the flower and greeting card industries paid for the bills.
On November 24, 1948, Anna Marie Jarvis died and was buried in Philadelphia at the West Laurel Hill Cemetery beside her mother, sister, and brother.