Why Mother's Day's inventor came to hate it

May 6, 2011

Mother's DayThis Sunday, Mother’s Day is celebrated across the U.S.

The founder of the holiday, Anna Jarvis, is mentioned in dozens of proclamations, resolutions, and other government statements memorializing or otherwise recognizing Mother’s Day.

However, Mother’s Day became a monster that Jarvis spent the majority of her life crusading against.

In fact, because of what Mother’s Day turned into, Jarvis herself became a bitter, reclusive ”spinster,” as a 1938 Time Magazine article put it.

Near the time of her death, she was “sorry that she ever started Mother’s Day.”

What was she so upset about?

The commercialization of Mother’s Day.

Jarvis started Mother’s Day on the first anniversary of her own mother’s death on May 9, 1906, by holding a memorial service at her home with a few of her friends.

Mother’s Day was a cause supported by Jarvis’s mother, who believed it would help reunify the nation after the Civil War.

In 1908, Jarvis secured two ceremonies for Mother’s Day, one in the auditorium of a Philadelphia store, and another one at her mother’s church in Grafton.

At the church, she sent 500 white carnations – her mother’s favorite flower – to be distributed to mothers in the congregation.

Anna JarvisDetermined to spread Mother’s Day in memory of her mother, Jarvis wrote to governments of nations and states pushing for the legal adoption of the day.

She was successful, and by the following year, 46 states, along with parts of Canada and Mexico, held Mother’s Day observances.

In 1914, Congress issued a resolution, which President Woodrow Wilson signed, designating the second Sunday in May to be observed as Mother’s Day,

Her success was probably due in no small part to her having worked in the advertising department of a life insurance company, which gave her some background in marketing.

Unfortunately, Jarvis’s dream come true turned into her nightmare.

The holiday was quickly seized upon by florists, confectioners, and other merchants who saw Mother’s Day as an opportunity to do business, much to Jarvis’s horror.

Starting in the 1920s, Jarvis used every tool at her disposal to fight this commercialization, including attempting to copyright “Mother’s Day” and “second Sunday in May,” unsuccessfully suing the New York governor over a large Mother’s Day event in 1923, not to mention plenty of greeting card-makers, who she accused of copyright infringement.

As of the printing of the 1938 Time article, she was still sending “violent telegrams” to President Roosevelt.

Why did Jarvis object so strongly to the commercialization of Mother’s Day that she extinguished her family fortune fighting it?

While there may be a variety of reasons, Jarvis believed that commercialization cheapened the reverence for one’s mother.

More specifically, Jarvis did not believe buying presents or sending cards could substitute for genuine reflection and appreciation of a mother’s sacrifices.

While Jarvis may have held personal flaws that lessened the weight of her opinions, her point is still valid.

This Mother’s Day, instead of simply dropping some cash on mom, take the opportunity to reflect on how important your mother really is to you, and make the sentiments last beyond Mother’s Day.