The Origin of Mother's Day in The United States

Julia Ward Howe, Juliet Calhoun Blakeley and Anna Jarvis share the honours for the present day commemoration of Mother's Day.

The first mention of the idea of Mother's Day can be traced to Julia Ward Howe suggested it in 1872. Howe, who wrote the words to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, saw Mother's Day as being dedicated to peace. Ms. Howe would hold, organized Mother's Day meetings in Boston, Mass every year.

The first known observance of Mother's Day in America occurred in Albion, Michigan on the second Sunday in May, 1877. It was the actions of an Albion Pioneer woman, Juliet Calhoun Blakeley, that set Mother's Day in motion. Two days before her 59th birthday on May 11th, 1877, three young men, all sons of staunch temperance advocates, were found drunk on the streets of Albion's business district. They had been the victims of anti-temperance shenanigans.

One of the young men was the son of the pastor of the local Methodist Episcopal Church. On Sunday (Mrs. Blakeley's birthday) the pastor was so distraught that he had to leave the pulpit before the services were concluded. Mrs. Blakeley, sitting near the front, stepped to the pulpit to take over the remainder of the service and called other mothers to join her.

Mrs. Blakeley's sons, Charles C. and Moses A. were travelling salesmen. They were so moved by her gesture that they vowed to return to Albion every year to mark their mother's birthday anniversary and to pay tribute to her. In addition, the two brothers made it a practice to urge business associates and those they met on the road to honor their mothers accordingly on the second Sunday of May. Because of the brothers urgings, the Methodist Episcopal Church in Albion set aside the second Sunday of each May to pay special recognition to mothers, and especially to Juliet Calhoun Blakeley "The Original Mother of Mother's Day", early in the 1880's. 

Mrs. Blakeley died in Albion on Nov. 29th, 1920 at the age of 102 years.

But it is Anna Jarvis of Philadelphia who is credited with bringing about the official observance of Mother's Day. Her campaign to establish such a holiday began as a remembrance of her mother, who died in 1905 and who had, in the late 19th century, tried to establish "Mother's Friendship Days" as a way to heal the scars of the Civil War.

Anna was not quite 2 years old when her family moved to Grafton, four miles south of Webster, W.Va. According to historical records, Anna heard her mother express hope that a memorial would be established for all mothers, living and dead.

After the death of her father in 1902, Anna --along with her mother and sister, Lillie -- moved to Philadelphia to reside with her brother, Claude. After Ann's death May 9, 1905, Anna began an intense campaign to fulfill the wish of her mother.

On May 10, 1908, the third anniversary of Ann's death, a program was held at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton and in Philadelphia, launching the observance of a general memorial day for all mothers.

Subsequently, the church observed Mother's Day on the second Sunday of May each year, making Andrews the mother church of Mother's Day. The church, no longer an active Methodist congregation, was incorporated as an international shrine in 1962 and is open to the public from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each weekday between April 15 and Oct. 15.

For the first official Mother's Day service in 1908, Anna sent 500 white carnations to the church to be given to the participating mothers. During the next several years, she sent more than 10,000 carnations there. Carnations - red for the living and white for the deceased - became symbols of the purity, strength and endurance of motherhood.

In her campaign to have Mother's Day recognized as a national holiday, Anna called on clergymen, business leaders and politicians for help. Those included John Wanamaker, who presided over a Mother's Day service in the 5,000-seat auditorium of his Philadelphia store on May 10, 1908. More than 15,000 reportedly tried to attend the event, where Anna spoke for more than an hour.

The first Mother's Day proclamation was issued by West Virginia's governor in 1910. The day was celebrated in most states in 1911.

In 1914, the U.S. House and Senate approved a resolution proclaiming the second Sunday of May as Mother's Day. President Woodrow Wilson endorsed it, and Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan proclaimed it.

But Jarvis' accomplishment soon turned bitter for her. Enraged by the commercialization of the holiday, she filed a lawsuit to stop a 1923 Mother's Day festival and was even arrested for disturbing the peace at a war mothers' convention where women sold white carnations - Jarvis' symbol for mothers - to raise money. "This is not what I intended," Jarvis said. "I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit."

When she died in 1948 in a sanatorium in West Chester, Pennsylvania at age 84, Jarvis had become a woman of great ironies. Never a mother herself, her maternal fortune dissipated by her efforts to stop the commercialization of the holiday she had founded, Jarvis told a reporter shortly before her death that she was sorry she had ever started Mother's Day. She spoke these words in a nursing home where every Mother's Day her room had been filled with cards from all over the world. On the day of the funeral, the bell on Andrews Church in Grafton tolled 84 times in her honor.

The home where Anna was born in the village of Webster, W.Va., has been restored as a museum and is open for visitors from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday and all holidays, March through December.

Today, most of us celebrate Mother's Day with little awareness of how it began. But we can identify with the respect, love and honor that Anna Jarvis displayed nearly a century ago. Women, especially mothers, face new challenges in society today, but motherhood remains a lasting influence on us as individuals and as a nation.

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MOTHER'S DAY PROMOTER -- Anna Jarvis led a successful campaign in the early 1900s to have Mother's Day recognized as a national holiday. Anna had heard her mother, Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, wife of a Methodist pastor in West Virginia, express hope that a memorial would be established for all mothers, living and dead.

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MOTHER OF MOTHER'S DAY -- Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, the wife of a Methodist pastor in West Virginia, is recognized as the "mother" of the Mother's Day holiday in the United States. Her daughter led a successful campaign in the early 1900s to have Mother's Day recognized as a national holiday.

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'MOTHER CHURCH' -- Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, W. Va., is recognized as the "mother church" of Mother's Day in the United States.

 

 

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