National Edition

Mother's Day 100-year history a colorful tale of love, anger and civic unrest

Published: Tuesday, May 6 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

Anna Jarvis is pictured in this undated photo. Jarvis was instrumental in the establishment of Mother's Day, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

Associated Press

The bond between mother and child may be as old as humankind itself, but the day that honors it is celebrating a very big birthday this year: Mother’s Day is officially 100 years old.

May 11 across the nation will see brunches and bouquets, cards and calls. Littler kids will proudly present mom with handprints and crayon pictures and did-it-myself ceramic gifts, while older children may offer gadgets and other store-bought presents.

Numbers aggregator Statistic Brain says Americans spend $14.6 billion on gifts for mom, including $671 million for cards and $1.9 billion for flowers. The average amount spent to honor mom is $126.90. Mother's Day is also the most likely day of the year for mom to be shooed from the kitchen and told to relax while the rest of the family prepares a meal or picks a restaurant.

It's a day to celebrate the natural bond between a woman and her child from their earliest attachment to the relationship they share today. It's also a time to fete other mother/mentor relationships with strong, nurturing women.

As they celebrate the day with their moms, most children — young or old — won’t know it’s in fact a holiday with a colorful history, started by a woman who adored her own mother but later tried very hard to take the holiday back.

A bit of history

When Pres. Woodrow Wilson put pen to paper and designated the second Sunday in May as “Mother’s Day” in 1914, one woman in particular was both excited and annoyed. Anna Jarvis is known as the “mother of Mother’s Day” for her long crusade to see the occasion adopted.

She was 12 when she heard her beloved mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, praying in a Sunday school class after teaching her young charges about mothers in the Bible. The elder Jarvis would today be called a peace activist. She spent much of her time caring for wounded soldiers on both sides of the Civil War. She organized what in the late 1800s she called “Mothers Day Work Clubs” to tackle public health issues. She was a firebrand.

“I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother's day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it,” is how Jarvis repeatedly recalled her mother’s prayer.

Her mother died in 1905 and, not long after, Jarvis stood near her grave and vowed she would be that person.

She pushed for a national holiday. She hosted a small gathering in honor of her mother in 1907. In 1908, she arranged for white carnations to be handed to mothers in the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, where her mother had taught Sunday school and where the movement was gaining traction.

Grafton celebrated the holiday's centennial in 2008 because of all the early Mother's Day celebrations held. West Virginia Gov. William E. Glasscock was the first to issue a Mother’s Day proclamation, in 1910. Wilson and Congress were a bit late to the party when, in 1914, they made Mother’s Day an official American holiday.

Trying to recant

Jarvis was a bit irked to see Wilson get credit for Mother's Day.

“When the national government recognized it, it was already being celebrated,” said Dr. Katharine Lane Antolini, assistant professor of history and international studies at West Virginia Wesleyan College. “It bothered Jarvis when Wilson got credit for establishing it.”

Jarvis had envisioned a sweet, even reverential holiday where children would visit their mothers or send handwritten letters. In a thank-you note to Wilson she wrote of a “great Home Day of our country for sons and daughters to honor their mothers and fathers and homes in a way that will perpetuate family ties and give emphasis to true home life.”

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