Today in 1914: President Wilson proclaims the first Mother’s Day

May 9, 2014

Today in Legal HistoryThis Sunday is Mother’s Day, and today marks the 100th anniversary of the official celebration of the holiday.

On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issued a presidential proclamation that invited the “people of the United States to display the [U.S.] flag at their homes or other suitable places on the second Sunday in May as a public expression of love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”

The history of the holiday didn’t begin merely with Wilson’s proclamation; rather, as detailed more in this post, Mother’s Day was celebrated in select regions across the country long before it was turned nationwide by President Wilson.

Mother’s Day was originally started by women’s groups during and following the Civil War, which often consisted of mothers whose sons fought and died during the Civil War, often on the opposite side.  One such mother in particular, Ann Jarvis, founded a committee to create a “Mother’s Friendship Day,” which sought to reunite families divided by the war.

Although it was her hope to expand the holiday to an annual celebration, Jarvis died in 1905, before she could see her dream realized.

On the one year anniversary of her death on May 9, 1906, Jarvis’s daughter Anna started Mother’s Day by holding a memorial service at her home with a few of her friends.  Anna didn’t stop there, however, and continued the push for greater and greater exposure for the holiday, all in honor of her mother.  By 1908, Jarvis had secured two ceremonies for Mother’s Day, one in the auditorium of a Philadelphia store, and another one at her mother’s church (which is now known as the International Mother’s Day Shrine and is a National Historic Landmark).

Jarvis continued her crusade for the holiday by writing letters to various state and national governments, and by the next year, 46 states in the U.S. and parts of Canada and Mexico were celebrating Mother’s Day.

In 1910, West Virginia became the first state to officially establish Mother’s Day as a holiday, and every other state quickly followed suit.  On May 8, 1914, the U.S. House passed a resolution named the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day and further requesting a presidential proclamation declaring as much.

The next day, President Wilson did just as Congress asked, and officially began the nation’s yearly observance of Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May.

And what of Jarvis? Did she celebrate her hard-fought victory for the remembrance of her mother?  Initially, yes, but later, she put every effort into fighting against the holiday.

As this post details, Jarvis became disgusted with the commercialization of Mother’s Day, feeling that buying presents or sending cards could never serve as a substitute for genuine appreciation for and reflection of a mother’s sacrifices.

Be that as it may, widespread celebration of the holiday persists to this day, heavy commercialization and all.

However, just because retailers use the holiday to heavily peddle their merchandise doesn’t mean that individuals must forego the genuine appreciation for their mothers.

So this Mother’s Day, keep Anna Jarvis’s original intentions in mind, and show your mother that you sincerely appreciate all of the love and effort that she’s given to you.