The woman who created Mother’s Day died despising it


Originally published in the Star on May 13, 2000

If you think the spirit of Mother’s Day has been spoiled by the commercialism of cards, flowers and once-a-year sincerity, you stand united with the woman credited with giving us the annual event.

West Virginian Anna Jarvis was so horrified by the monster she helped create in 1914, she spent most of her later years campaigning to have the second Sunday in May removed from the calendar as the day to honour your mother.

In the end, Jarvis lost the fight. The woman, who was never a mother herself, exhausted her financial resources and ruined her mental health, dying alone in 1948 in an asylum at the age of 84.

“She simply wanted a day to honour and remember mothers, but in her mind it didn’t turn out that way, “ says William Pollard, an archivist at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va., where Jarvis bequeathed her letters and other writings.

In 1914, Jarvis spearheaded a campaign to help persuade U.S. president Woodrow Wilson to set aside May’s second Sunday as a national day for recognition. She orchestrated a letter-writing campaign to Wilson, lobbied influential politicians and clergymen and distributed brochures arguing about the importance of a national day for mothers.

Her tactics in an age of populist causes was similar in many respects to public campaigns that helped create such institutions as the Boy Scout movement and Thanksgiving Day as an American national holiday.

Jarvis’ cause came from admiration for her recently deceased mother, Anna Maria and others like her, who had been an inspiration.

But by the early 1920s, she was sickened by the commercial circus she had helped create. She felt the day had nothing to do with celebrating the real achievements of women.

Jarvis spent her days crashing floral company conventions to protest and urging card companies to give the money they made from Mother’s Day to the poor. At one Mother’s Day convention where flowers were being sold she was arrested for disturbing the peace. She even launched a lawsuit to stop a Mother’s day festival from being held.

Her story didn’t end happily. Jarvis, who didn’t marry, died in 1948 alone and penniless in a hospital near Philadelphia from a illness brought on in part by her ceaseless campaign.

Just before her death Jarvis told a local reporter: “I devoted my entire life to Mother’s Day and the racketeers and grafters have taken it over.”