The Revealing Story Behind Mother’s Day

In 1905 Anna Jarvis started her campaign to recognize Mother’s Day as a national holiday – which was formalized in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation doing just that.

Less than a decade later, Anna was organizing a boycott for the holiday she helped create.

The story behind this turn of events is fascinating and instructive for how we choose to honor our moms today.

In short, Anna was originally inspired to honor her mother, a “peace activist who cared for soldiers on both sides of the Civil War.” 

Believing that “a mother is the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world,” the day was designed for each person to specifically honor their mother (hence the singular possessive Mother’s Day vs. the collective Mothers’ Day.)

To her dismay, beginning in the 1920’s, companies increasingly were using this day as a commercial means to make profits. The idea of buying a gift or a pre-made card was an anathema to her original intent – which she felt would be better served by writing your mother a hand-written letter. She organized protests of candy companies, boycotts of florists and was even arrested in pursuit of her cause. 

The week leading up to Mother’s Day this year, my own mom was rushed to the hospital with a possible heart attack. Surgery was required to remove a gallbladder that was close to bursting. 

One evening as I lay in bed praying for a good outcome, my mind began to drift. Perhaps somewhat morbidly, I imagined her funeral and the eulogy I might give – enumerating the many wonderful things that made my mother so special.

In learning about the history of Mother’s Day – one I usually mark by sending her a dozen yellow roses – I began to see the folly of my daydream. 

Why would I imagine what wonderful things I might say about my mom when she was gone?  Instead of observing Mother’s Day in the way it was intended and write her a letter telling her those wonderful things while she is still here (btw, she is recovering nicely.)  

And that is what I’m going to do now. Perhaps you’d be interested in doing the same.  I’m guessing she’d appreciate it more than a box of chocolates. 

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