Mother’s Day is a modern celebration honoring one’s own mother, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society. It is celebrated on various days in many parts of the world, most commonly in the months of March or May. It complements similar celebrations honoring family members, such as Father’s Day and Siblings Day.
The celebration of Mother’s Day began in the United States in the early 20th century; it is not related to the many celebrations of mothers and motherhood that have occurred throughout the world over thousands of years, such as the Greek cult to Cybele, the Roman festival of Hilaria, or the Christian Mothering Sunday celebration (originally a celebration of the mother church, not motherhood). Despite this, in some countries Mother’s Day has become synonymous with these older traditions.
The modern American holiday of Mother’s Day was first celebrated in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother in Grafton, West Virginia. Her campaign to make “Mother’s Day” a recognized holiday in the United States began in 1905, the year her beloved mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, died. Anna’s mission was to honor her own mother by continuing work she started and to set aside a day to honor mothers, “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world”. Anna’s mother, Ann Jarvis, was a peace activist who cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the Civil War and created Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address public health issues.
Due to the campaign efforts of Anna Jarvis, several states officially recognized Mother’s Day, the first in 1910 being West Virginia, Jarvis’ home state. Jarvis’ push to create an official holiday was met with opposition by some. Sen. Henry Moore Teller described the notion of Mother’s Day as “absolutely absurd,” and “trifling.” In 1914 Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation creating Mother’s Day, the second Sunday in May, as a national holiday to honor mothers.
Although Jarvis was successful in founding Mother’s Day she soon became resentful of the commercialization and was angry that companies would profit from the holiday. By the early 1920s, Hallmark and other companies started selling Mother’s Day cards. Jarvis became so embittered by what she saw as misinterpretation and exploitation that she protested and even tried to rescind Mother’s Day. The holiday that she worked so hard for was supposed to be about sentiment, not about profit. Jarvis’ intention for the holiday had been for people to appreciate and honor mothers by writing a personal letter, by hand, expressing love and gratitude, rather than buying gifts and pre-made cards. Jarvis organized boycotts and threatened lawsuits to try to stop the commercialization. She crashed a candymakers’ convention in Philadelphia in 1923. Two years later she protested at a confab of the American War Mothers, which raised money by selling carnations, the flower associated with Mother’s Day, and was arrested for disturbing the peace.
Jarvis’ holiday was adopted by other countries and it is now celebrated all over the world.
In 1912, Anna Jarvis trademarked the phrases “second Sunday in May” and “Mother’s Day”, and created the Mother’s Day International Association. She specifically noted that “Mother’s” should “be a singular possessive, for each family to honor its mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers of the world.” This is also the spelling used by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in his 1914 presidential proclamation, by the U.S. Congress in relevant bills, and by various U.S. presidents in their proclamations concerning Mother’s Day. However, “Mothers’ Day” (plural possessive) or “Mothers Day” (plural non-possessive) are also sometimes seen.
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