Don’t be misled. This isn’t a tabloid story about Mother’s Day gone wrong. There’s no news of a family brawl using #10 cans of freeze dried pineapple as deadly weapons. Nor is there any smart phone video here of a food fight at a popular restaurant serving Mother’s Day brunch.
This post is a worthy tribute to a good American fight. It was led by a mother-daughter team committed to making a Mother’s Day holiday a reality. Because of their efforts, and plenty of other women visionaries more than 100 years ago, we have all been blessed to enjoy a special day designated to honoring Moms.
A Long Time in Labor
“Mother’s Day” in the U.S. actually spent decades in the womb. Starting in the early 1860’s, it was based on a brainstorm conceived in the heart. And there’s very little doubt it was in fact a broken heart.
This was the time in our nation’s history covered with blood from the American Civil War. The idea for a “Mother’s Day” movement grew as groups of mothers with sons on both sides of the war would meet to promote peace. Some estimates showed the Civil War’s death toll at nearly 1 in 3 of all Southern white males under age 40. From the Northern states, the rate of similar males was thought to be around 10%. That’s a whole lot of grieving mothers. That’s a whole lot of suffering families.
A Jarvis Job
Ann Jarvis was the mother of 11 children. (The same lucky number as the Freeze Dry Guy). She lived with the pain of loss. 7 of her children died before becoming adults.
Born in Virginia, Ann was residing in West Virginia during the American Civil War. Her husband was the son of a pastor. He was actively involved in their church.
Ann Jarvis created “Mother’s Day Work Clubs.” They were organized groups designed to raise money for medicine during the war. Since freeze dried foods were invented yet and used by the military, the women took on the important job of inspecting food and milk for safety standards. Fighting tuberculosis in those days was another major challenge. Ann’s groups hired women to support families faced with the killer disease.
Control of the railroads made West Virginia a key strategic battleground. Somehow Ann Jarvis boldly and successfully got her troops to remain neutral. The women provided medical care and aid to soldiers in both blue and gray uniforms. And it wasn’t just battle wounds. Outbreaks of typhoid fever and measles were also raging through military camps.
In 1868, Ann Jarvis pushed again for a Mother’s Day. After the Civil War ended, tensions were very high in both the North and South. So this time she tried a community “Mother’s Friendship Day.” She hoped to use mothers to peacefully repair and reunite families broken or divided by the war. The concept didn’t catch on.
For decades, churches and other women such as Julia Ward Howe, best known for writing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” followed Ann Jarvis’ efforts. But despite their many attempts, the idea of an annual Mother’s Day holiday just couldn’t go “viral.”
After the turn into the 20th Century, the Mother’s Day movement in the U.S. found new life. The spark came from The Fraternal Order of Eagles in Seattle, Washington. The men’s group made a nationwide public plea for a day to honor mothers. Sadly, Ann Jarvis’s life ended shortly thereafter on May 9, 1905.
Ann’s daughter, Anna Jarvis was one of the children living with their mother when she passed away. Anna took the torch but didn’t run with it. She marched. She was a homemaker in West Virginia who made it her life’s mission to finish the Mother’s Day job.
Anna began by organizing “Mother’s Work Day.” The event was done to add awareness to poor health conditions in her community. It did little. However, she soon found the fast track by lobbying successful businessmen. Among them was John Wanamaker, a famous Philadelphia marketing and advertising pioneer. He and others connected Anna with powerful politicians including U.S. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Alas, the Mother’s Day dream was gaining support.
On Sunday, May 12, 1907, in Grafton, West Virginia, Anna Jarvis organized a service where her mother taught Sunday School at the Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church. They gave white carnations to the congregation. This was her mother’s favorite flower.
The same event next year became the first “official” version of that church service which is now at a National Historic Landmark, the International Mother’s Day Shrine. John Wanamaker then created a much bigger event in the auditorium of his huge Philadelphia store. The next year the holiday celebration expanded to New York City. Soon individual states began to adopt it, too.
In May 1913, came House Resolution 103. It requested white carnations be worn by members of the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, President Woodrow Wilson, and all government officials to honor their mothers “for being the greatest source of our country’s strength and inspiration.”
Then on May 9, 1914, exactly nine years after Ann Jarvis’ death, legislation was introduced and easily passed. Instead of mentioning carnations, it requested the American flag be displayed nationwide for our country’s mothers. President Woodrow Wilson immediately signed the bill into law the same day. It mandated the second Sunday in May to be a national holiday, “Mother’s Day.”
The Early Years
In the early 20th Century, Sunday was a “day off” in the U.S. Most Americans observed the new holiday by attending church. Then they delivered handwritten letters to their Moms expressing love and appreciation.
But quickly came the buying of cards, gifts, and flowers. Mothers across America were thrilled to be showered with such signs of gratitude. Anna Jarvis was enraged.
She thought her idea of an annual tribute had been sacrificed for greed. In 1923 she filed a lawsuit to halt a Mother’s Day festival. She was also arrested for disturbing the peace at a convention selling carnations. Sadly, she did this even though the proceeds benefited a war mother’s group.
Anna Jarvis never became a wife or mother. Soon after the national holiday was born, she fought against Mother’s Day even harder than she fought to establish it. Anna and a sister were reported to have spent their entire family inheritance on bitterness.
Before Anna Jarvis died in poverty in 1948, she made it clear she regretted her role in launching Mother’s Day. Her obituary in the New York Times summed up Anna’s disgust for her fellow Americans:
“A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.” – Anna Jarvis
Mother’s Day changed with the times. And it has continued to evolve around the world.
- In the U.S. it is the most popular day of the year for dining out.
- In the U.S. it being the highest day of the year for telephone traffic.
At Freeze Dry Guy, we salute the passion and persistence which the Jarvis women and many Americans showed in fighting for what they believed and bringing this sacred national holiday to life. And no matter how much it changes, the love and good intentions of millions more Americans keep Mother’s Day alive and well today. Amen to that.
Happy Mother’s Day 2013 to you and your loved ones from Freeze Dry Guy.