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The founder of Mother’s Day, Anna Marie Jarvis, spent every penny of her inheritance to stop the observance of the day.
Go ahead. Re-read the sentence to make sure it says what you think it said.

Anna Marie Jarvis was high-minded. Principled. An idealist. And I quote:

“A printed [Mother’s Day] 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.”

You get the idea.

Anna was an activist, not an entrepreneur. The U.S.A. is filled with activists and entrepreneurs; it’s a pity they don’t get along. Activists launch the causes that the entrepreneurs turn into great money-making enterprises that the activists then petition for money to fund their causes which are often in protest to the enterprises of the entrepreneurs. This is an excellent system for it keeps everyone busy and involved and generally prosperous.

Being an activist, then, Anna was opposed to the commercialization of Mother’s Day. As a purist (idealists are generally purists), she felt that one cannot truly honor one’s mother with the easy purchase of a factory-manufactured card pre-printed with verse by some hack writer-for-hire who probably doesn’t even have a mother. Judging by her words above, she was also opposed to children eating their mother’s candy. I assure you that this indictment of candy-sharing was not based upon personal experience, for Miss Jarvis never married and therefore, because she grew up in the Victorian era, Miss Jarvis never had children.

You may re-read. The founder of Mother’s Day was childless. That’s kind of sad. However, she was not, as are hack writers of Mother’s Day cards, motherless. Anna’s mother was the inspiration for Mother’s Day and in a sense, its originator. No article about Mother’s Day could be complete without a description of her.

Mrs. Jarvis was a high-minded woman. Principled. And idealist and an activist. Before Anna was born, she had organized mothers’ work clubs to address the unsanitary living conditions that were largely responsible for the high infant mortality rates of the time. She had ample motivation, for of her eleven children, only four survived to adult-hood.

Anna was Mrs. Jarvis’s ninth child. She was born in 1864, in the midst of the bloodiest war in U.S. history, and in West Virginia, one of the battlefields of that war. During the war, Anna’s mother directed the work of her mothers’ clubs to the care of the war wounded without regard to the color of their uniforms. After the war, she organized an annual Mothers’ Friendship Day event to bring together the survivors from both sides.

Mrs. Jarvis was also a teacher and an admired lecturer in her church. When Anna was twelve, her mother prayed aloud that mothers would be commemorated someday for their “…matchless service…to humanity in every field of life.”

Forty-one years later, standing over her mother’s grave as the bell of Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church tolled 72 times for each year of her life, Anna vowed that “…by the grace of God, you shall have that Mother’s Day.”

Anna launched such an aggressive letter-writing and speaking campaign for the establishment of a Mother’s Day that she was once arrested for disturbing the peace, but only four years after the launch, nearly every state in the Union was observing Mother’s Day, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Mother’s Day a national holiday to be observed annually the second Sunday of May. Why May? Anna’s mother died in May.

Anna’s success is owed in large part to the support she gained from wealthy entrepreneur, John Wanamaker, the founder of one of the nation’s first department stores, in which, we may safely assume, Mother’s Day cards were later sold at a tidy profit. Isn’t it pleasant when all the pieces come together so nicely?


By the 1920s, Anna was thoroughly disgusted with the superficiality of Mother’s Day. A manufactured one-card-fits-all sentiment and a box of candy that the kids fought over trivialized both the occasion and the mother. The woman who gave heart, mind, and body to the ceaseless care and nurture of her children deserved the devoted attention of her family for at least one day in the year. Anna had a point.

Anna died in 1948. She was buried beside her beloved mother, and as it had for her mother, the bell of Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church tolled once for each year of her life. The bell tolled 84 times.

Anna Marie Jarvis originated the practice of wearing carnations on Mother’s Day—red if Mother is living, white if she is deceased. Why carnations?

They were her mother’s favorite flower.

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