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Who IS the mother of Mother’s Day?

Courtesy publicdomainpictures.net
Courtesy publicdomainpictures.net

Life is full of irony, as I discovered while researching today’s blog. As you know, we honor our mothers this Sunday, an official day thanks to President Woodrow Wilson, but not something he just thought of one day.

No. Go way back to 1876 when Ann Jarvis ended her Sunday school class about “Mothers of the Bible” with a small prayer for mothers: “I hope that someone, sometime will found a memorial mothers day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.”

Ann’s 12-year-old daughter, Anna, heard those words and when Ann died in 1905, Anna set out to fulfill that small prayer for her mom, who had been a tireless volunteer for those who needed health care (first irony, given today’s world).

So a bit about Anna, a striking beauty herself:

Anna Jarvis
Anna Jarvis

Anna became quite a success, graduating from what is now Mary Baldwin College, teaching school for seven years, then in Philadelphia becoming a bigwig for Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance. She also became a shareholder in her brother’s cab company. You can tell from this pic below she did well, given the fur coat and peacock feathers:

Anna Jarvis
Anna Jarvis

In her quest to fulfill her mom’s prayer of memorializing our mothers, Anna went about the idea the old-fashioned way: a write-in campaign to those with influence. She also had the support of millionaire philanthropist John Wanamaker. In 1908, the first Mother’s Day was held at St. Andrews Episcopal Methodist Church in Anna’s mother’s hometown of Grafton, West Virginia, complete with 500 carnations, Anna’s mother’s favorite flower.

Andrews Episcopal Methodist Church, the International Mother's Day Shrine
Andrews Episcopal Methodist Church, the International Mother's Day Shrine

Time has taken Mother’s Day forward from there. But I found a few other ironic pages in this chapter of history.

First, Anna became very disenchanted with the commercialization of Mother’s Day preferring personal notes for mom, rather than store-bought cards. She thought taking candy and flowers to mom was a lazy way to show honor. Yet, her philanthropist buddy John Wanamaker is actually known as “the pioneer in marketing!" And when Anna later fell on hard times and went to a sanitarium, those associated with the floral and greeting card industry paid her bills.

Finally -- wait for it -- the founder of Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, never married nor did she ever become a mother herself.

Happy Mother’s Day! And thank you, Anna!

Frank

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