The Surprisingly Sad Origins of Mother’s Day:The history of Mother’s Day

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This year Mother’s Day will be marked on Sunday, May 14. And it’s appropriate that the day on which Americans celebrate mother’s day has origin from a father. President Woodrow Wilson is usually seen as the “father” of Mother’s Day. He was the one who signed a proclamation on May 9, 1914, declaring the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day. This day was declared as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.

On the other hand copywriter, Anna Jarvis is usually seen as the “mother” of Mother’s Day. She was the one who created the movement that led to the proclamation.  But as the popularity of the holiday spread, several other people came forward to claim. Claiming that they had been the first to start celebrating mothers.

History of Mother’s Day

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If we have a look at documents available. A complete picture of the origins of Mother’s Day began with a misplaced cardboard box. The table from the kitchen of a West Virginia church. In the year 2003, Katharine Antolini, a graduate student who was researching the history of motherhood found something special.  She found the details at the site in Grafton, where the first known celebration of Mother’s Day took place in 1908.

She found the unlikely story of Anna Jarvis, who first spent years crusading to make Mother’s Day a widely observed holiday. On May 10, 1908, Jarvis sent 500 white carnations to Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in her hometown of Grafton.  Jarvis sent these white carnations in honor of her late mother, Ann.

Anna Jarvis chose the second Sunday in May because it was the Sunday closest to her mother’s death. And the white carnation was her mother’s favorite flower, and thus these flowers became the holiday’s symbol.

Other Stories and Evidence


One notable person who also have a claim mother’s day is Jarvis’ mother. As she comes up with such an idea in the mid-19th century. Ann’s  vision for Mother’s Day, however, looked very different from the gift-centric holiday of modern times.

As per evidence available from Katharine Lane Antolini, the original idea of Jarvis was for a “Mothers’ Day” a day for mothers. And not a day for her mother. A day on which mothers would get together for a day of service to help out other mothers who were less fortunate.

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The experience of motherhood in case of Jarvis  was infused with sadness. Out of the 13 children that she bore, only four lived to adulthood. Her story was not uncommon. And as per documents available an estimated 15 to 30% of infants in that Appalachian region died before their first birthday.

For the same Jarvis later took help of her brother Dr. James Reeves. His brother Dr. James Reeves was involved in treating victims of the typhoid fever epidemic. Jarvis and James organized events where doctors were invited to lead discussions with local mothers to try to improve the situation. By introducing latest hygiene practices that could keep their children healthy. They called the events Mothers’ Day Work Clubs.

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Around the same time, Ann Jarvis started Mother’s Day Work Clubs to stop babies from dying prematurely. Another story of origin comes from “Battle Hymn of the Republic” writer Julia Ward. She started a “Mother’s Peace Day,” inspired by the Civil War and subsequent Franco-Prussian War. Do watch the video to know more about the history of Mother’s Day.

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