Anna Jarvis, the Mother of Mother’s Day

Andrews Methodist Episcopal where the first Mother’s Day celebration took place, became an International Mother’s Day shrine in 1962

Author: Joshua Burns 

I n 1868 a woman called Anna Jarvis formed a committee to bring together families that had been separated during the American Civil War, which she called ‘Mother’s Friendship Day.’ Jarvis had plans to make it a broader, more popular event for mothers but died in 1905 before it had a chance to become popular. It was her daughter, Anna, who took up the mantle*. On 10th May, 1908, three years after her mother died, Anna Jarvis organised the first Mother’s Day event something she would soon come to regret.

Anna Jarvis was ahead of her time, in many ways. Upon the encouragement of her mother, she attended college and enjoyed a successful career in banks and insurance agencies, and even became a shareholder in her brother’s business. However, it was her close relationship with her mother that dominated her live, and Anna found it very difficult when she passed away*. The Mother’s Day event she organised was a very serious, and personal, event for her.

As time went on the holiday became more commercialised, and Jarvis was extremely upset* by this. She began to speak out against what was happening: she said that mother’s day cards were for lazy people who couldn’t write letters; that most people ate the sweets they bought for their mothers themselves; and that the very personal symbol she began of sending white carnations* had been sullied.*

Before long, Jarvis started to campaign that Mother’s Day be stopped. In 1943, she began a petition to do just that, but before long she was thrown into an asylum for people with mental illnesses. Whether she was actually mentally unwell or not is hard to tell, but we do know that wealthy people from floral and gift card companies paid to make sure that she didn’t get out. In 1948, Anna Jarvis, the mother of Mother’s Day, died aged 84, without any children.

While this sad story is the origin of Mother’s Day in the United States, Jarvis’ legacy has lived on. Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in West Virginia, where the first Mother’s Day celebration took place, became an International Mother’s Day shrine in 1962 and a National Historic Landmark in 1992. However, Jarvis’ legacy reaches even beyond the United States.
In France, around the turn of the 20th century, there was alarm at the low birth rate in the country. The government began to create awards for the mothers of large families. In 1906, ten mothers who had nine children each were given an award recognising their ‘High Maternal Merit’. It wasn’t until WWI, however, that a new tradition began. American soldiers fighting in the war sent so many letters home on Mother’s Day that the Union Franco-Américaine created a postcard entirely for that purpose. In the 1940’s all mothers were eventually honoured – not just those with big families.

Nowadays, Mother’s Day is celebrated in many countries around the world. It is common for us in Western countries to send cards or flowers to our mothers, or maybe take them out for a meal. In many countries, like Spain, the holiday is related to the Virgin Mary, as May is the month of Mary. In others, like Argentina, the holiday is held on the 1st October – the only country in the world to hold it on that day. In Egypt, Mother’s Day is held to coincide with the beginning of spring, falling each year on the 21st March, whereas in Ethiopia, they don’t just have one day – but three. Held annually after the end of the rainy season, this Ethiopian celebration involves food, songs and other traditional rituals.

We can all agree that it’s excellent that these celebrations exist. It’s very important to make sure that our mothers feel appreciated for everything they’ve done for us. And although most of these celebrations don’t have anything to do with the American one, it might be worth taking a moment on 10th May to think of Anna Jarvis, the poor mother of the American Mother’s Day who was betrayed by the overwhelming success of her own holiday.

Glossary

To take up the mantle – to take on a specific role
To pass away – a polite way to say someone died
Upset – Unhappy
Carnations – a type of flower
To be sullied – To be made dirty

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