Children have been honoring their mothers since the beginning of time. However, it wasn’t until 1872 that serious thought was given to honoring all mothers with a special day. Although Julia Ward Howe, who wrote the words to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, made the first suggestion of Mother’s Day, credit for the invention of the holiday often goes to Anna Jarvis.
Anna’s mother had longed for a day of peace as a way to heal the emotional scars of the Civil War. Called “Mother’s Friendship Day,” the Philadelphia native worked until her death to establish the holiday. When her mother died, Anna picked up the cause. Anna worked tirelessly to establish a “special memorial day honoring all mothers for the service she renders to humanity in every field and to reunite families divided by Civil War.”
By 1910, West Virginia was the first state to recognize a day in honor of mothers at a service in Grafton, WV. Called Mother’s Day, the holiday was a big success. Anna Jarvis was pleased with Grafton’s efforts. In appreciation she sent 500 white carnations (her mother’s favorite flower) to the town with a note reading, “These five hundred carnations are given by a loyal, loving daughter in honor and sacred memory of her good and faithful mother, Mrs. Ann M. Jarvis, who worked faithfully and earnestly for twenty long years, as an earnest teacher in our Sunday School, who only a few years ago departed to that better world to reap the reward of her labors here. Everyone is asked to wear this flower.” As a result of Anna’s gift, white carnations are today the symbol of Mother’s Day. A white carnation is thought to typify the virtues of motherhood. White stands for purity, the lasting quality of carnations indicate faithfulness, the flower’s fragrance denotes love, the flower’s wide field of growth symbolizes charity, and its shape represents beauty; all qualities of mothers.
A year later, nearly every state had officially marked the day. However, it wasn’t until 1914 that President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Mother’s Day as an official holiday to be held on the second Sunday of May “as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”
Even though Anna Jarvis was successful in her quest to establish Mother’s Day, her accomplishment soon turned bitter. Enraged by the commercialization of the holiday, she filed a lawsuit to stop a 1923 Mother’s Day festival and was arrested for disturbing the peace at a war mother’s convention where women were selling white carnations for profit. Despite her protestations the holiday continued.