The history of Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day observations are noted to have occurred in ancient Greek and Rome. However, the holiday we celebrate today was not officially recognized until the year 1914. West Virginia’s own Ann Reeves Jarvis and her daughter Anna Jarvis are credited with development of the holiday. This year Mother’s Day occurs on Sunday, May 8. In honoring Mother’s Day, we will further review its history below.

As previously noted, celebrations that honored mothers and motherhood have been traced back to ancient times in both Greek and Rome. Festivals were held to honor mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele. revealed, “The clearest modern precedent for Mother’s Day is the early Christian festival known as Mothering Sunday.” further stated, “Once a major tradition in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe, this celebration fell on the fourth Sunday in Lent and was originally seen as a time when the faithful would return to their ‘mother church’—the main church in the vicinity of their home—for a special service.”

Mother’s Day celebrations in the United States began in the 19th century. Ann Reeves Jarvis created Mother’s Day Work Clubs just before the Civil War that taught women how to properly care for their children. The clubs became a “unifying force in a region of the country still divided over the Civil War,” according to Later in 1868, Jarvis organized Mother’s Friendship Day which promoted reconciliation of mothers with former Union and Confederate soldiers.

Jarvis is often the only woman recognized for Mother’s Day creation. However, another woman by the name of Julia Ward Howe is responsible for the development of Mother’s Day. Howe wrote a Mother’s Day Proclamation in the year 1870 that promoted world peace. Three years later Howe created a campaign for Mother’s Peace Day to be observed every June 2.

An additional Mother’s Day pioneer included Juliet Calhoun Blakely. Blakely was “a temperance activist who inspired a local Mother’s Day in Albion, Michigan, in the 1870s. The duo of Mary Towles Sasseen and Frank Hering, meanwhile, both worked to organize a Mothers’ Day in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some have even called Hering the father of Mothers’ Day,” as stated by

In the 1900s, the official Mother’s Day holiday emerged as a result of Anna Jarvis. Anna Jarvis was the daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis. When Ann passed away in 1905, daughter Anna founded Mother’s Day as a way of honoring mothers and the sacrifices they made for their children.

Jarvis received financial assistance from John Wanamaker. Wanamaker was a Philadelphia department store owner. In May of 1908, Jarvis organized and held the first official Mother’s Day celebration in Grafton, West Virginia.

Jarvis then sought out to have the holiday added to the national calendar after the success of her first Mother’s Day celebration. According to, “Jarvis argued that American holidays were biased toward male achievements, she started a massive letter writing campaign to newspapers and prominent politicians urging the adoption of a special day honoring motherhood.”

Jarvis continued her efforts and also established the Mother’s Day International Association. Finally in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed documentation officially declaring the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. Interestingly enough, after her fight to have the national holiday, Jarvis was upset with its commercialization. Jarvis had the notion that Mother’s Day was to be a personal celebration among mothers and families. By 1920, Jarvis was appalled that florists, card companies and other merchants were capitalizing on its popularity. It is also noted that by the time of her death in 1948 Jarvis had “disowned the holiday altogether, and even actively lobbied the government to see it removed from the American calendar,” as stated by

Check out these facts about Mother’s Day below, provided by

• Mother’s Day is the third most popular holiday in the world, behind only Christmas and Easter.

• According to the Pew Research Center, more phone calls are made on Mother’s Day than any other day of the year.

• A research study conducted by Nancy Etcoff, Ph.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, found that flowers affect human behavior and make people feel happier and more compassionate around fresh-cut blooms.

• Approximately 65% of all greeting card sales occur in the last five days before Mother’s Day.

• Women purchase 80% of all Mother’s Day cards.

  In what was formerly Yugoslavia, children would tie up their mother on Mother’s Day. The only way she could be freed would be to “pay” her children with candy and treats.

• Anna Jarvis is considered the founder of Mother’s Day in the United States. She quit her job to focus full-time on persuading politicians, business executives and civic leaders into making the holiday official. On May 8, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a Joint Resolution designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day thanks to the persistence of Jarvis. Jarvis never married nor had children of her own.

  Around one-quarter of all flowers purchased throughout the year are purchased for Mother’s Day.

• Many of the trademark sweaters that Mr. Rogers wore on his television show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, were knitted by his real mother.

• Mother’s Day was intended to be a day to honor mothers individually and not collectively, thus the reason for the apostrophe before the “s” – making it singular possessive instead of plural possessive.

• Mother’s Day is the busiest day of the year for the restaurant industry with 62% of Americans dining out.

Mothers should be celebrated every day. There are also a variety of mothers including biological, stepmothers, adoptive mothers and fur-mamas. Take time this year to honor them on Mother’s Day and every day. Happy Mother’s Day!


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