Anna Reeves Jarvis was the first woman to hold a celebration of mothers in 1858 in West Virginia, where she instituted Mothers’ Work Day to raise awareness about local sanitation issues. During the Civil War, she expanded the scope of Mothers’ Work Day to include sanitary conditions on both sides of the battlefield.
Julia Ward Howe, author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” also attempted to institute a national celebration of mothers that honored women’s inclinations toward peace. In 1872 she initiated and promoted a Mother’s Day for Peace, to be held on June 2, which was celebrated the following year by women in 18 cities across America. The holiday continued for another decade but eventually phased out after Howe stopped underwriting the cost of the celebrations.
In 1905, Anna Reeves Jarvis passed away and her daughter, Anna Jarvis, took up her mother’s cause. Anna swore on her mother’s gravesite that she would continue her mother’s lifelong dream of creating a national day to honor mothers. In 1907, Anna launched her campaign by handing out white carnations to the parishioners at her mother’s church in Grafton, West Virginia.
Mother’s Day was first celebrated in 1908, when Anna Jarvis’ church acquiesced to Anna’s request to hold a special Sunday service in honor of mothers – a tradition that spread the very next year to churches in 46 states. In 1909, Anna left her job and began a campaign to make “Mother’s Day” a recognized holiday in the United States. She dedicated herself to a full-time letter-writing campaign, asking politicians, clergymen and civic leaders to institute a national day for mothers. Jarvis’ efforts met with success and her home state of West Virginia adopted an official Mother’s Day. Two years later, the U.S. Congress passed a Joint Resolution, signed by President Wilson, establishing a national Mother’s Day emphasizing the role of women in their families.
In 1912, Anna Jarvis trademarked the phrases “second Sunday in May” and “Mother’s Day” in the singular possessive form in honor of each mother. Mother’s Day has been celebrated by Americans on the second Sunday in May ever since.
Jarvis holiday was adopted by other countries and cultures and it is now celebrated all over the world. The date was changed to fit already existing celebrations honoring motherhood, such as Mothering Sunday in the United Kingdom and the Orthodox celebration of the presentation of Jesus Christ to the temple on February 2 in Greece.
Ironically, Anna Jarvis never had children of her own. But that didnt stop her from making the celebration of Mother’s Day her lifelong mission. In fact, as the holiday took on a life of its own, Jarvis expressed disappointment over its growing commercialization by the 1920s. In this tradition, each person offers a gift, card, or remembrance toward their mothers, grandmothers and/or maternal figure on Mother’s Day. For my part, I dedicate my book “BAHALA NA (Come What May): A World War II Story of Love, Faith, Courage, Determination and Survival” to my mother as shown in the Dedication Page.