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The History of Mother's Day

Sleeping in, breakfast in bed with a single carnation on the tray to give it a luxurious feel; all of us mothers know what day I am talking about. It is arguably the best day of the year for us moms – Mother's Day. It is the day we don't have to lift a finger, wash a dish, or prepare a meal (but we end up doing it anyway). Mother's Day is celebrated all around the globe, but have you ever wondered how it started?

The mere acknowledgment and appreciation of mothers began in 1858 when Anna Jarvis, also known as Mother Jarvis, organized “Women's Work Days.” Anna Jarvis was a young homemaker in Appalachia who advocated for improving sanitation and preventing women's deaths from working in polluted waters and seepage containing disease-bearing insects. Anna taught Sunday school at the Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. While conducting a Sunday school lesson, Anna Jarvis stated, “I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will celebrate and commemorate Mother's Day. There are many days for men and none for mothers.”

Those words strongly affected Anna Jarvis’ daughter, also named Anna, who was one of her students that historic Sunday. After Anna Jarvis senior passed away, Anna Jarvis junior started a strong campaign to honor her mother by making Mother's Day an official holiday. Anna junior started a letter-writing campaign to men of prominence, such as President William Taft and former President Theodore Roosevelt. Because Anna now lived in Philadelphia and worked at Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Company, she gained considerable help from Philadelphia merchant John Wannamaker.

On May 10th, 1908, three years after Anna Jarvis senior's death, Andrews Methodist Church held a Mother's Day service to commemorate her honor. Here you can find the International Mother's Day Shrine marking the first official observance of Mother's Day. On the same day, the Wannamaker Auditorium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, also held a Mother’s Day commemorative service. Although the auditorium could only seat five thousand, more than fifteen thousand people showed up to celebrate.

The tradition of celebrating Mother's Day on the second Sunday of May spread quickly through the US all the way to Hawaii. It started its spread internationally to Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Canada. In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson signed the congressional resolution to name Mother’s Day as a holiday officially.

Today we celebrate Mother's Day with a day of pampering and homemade artwork. We show our mothers how important they are to us by giving them a break from their daily workload, whether they are homemakers or working moms. But let's be honest, even on our day off, we still end up cleaning a mess or two. And if you are far from your mother, remember that even a phone call will make her day.  

  • Anna Jarvis