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The History of Mother's Day

Our Mother's Day today was influenced over 100 years ago by Anna Reeve Jarvis, Julia Ward Howe, Mary Towles Sasseen, and Anne Jarvis. The roots of Mother's Day did not begin in the United States but in England during the medieval time. People took off work to return to their "mother church," the church where they were baptized and spent a day gathering with their families.

Julia Ward Howe

Julia Ward Howe was the first person known for suggesting Mother's Day on June 2nd in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1872 to honor peace. She helped the U.S. Sanitary Commission by providing hygienic environments for sick and wounded soldiers. In 1870, she organized a "Mother's Day for Peace" to celebrate the end of the Civil War. She was antimilitaristic and believed wars were consequential because many women lost their fathers, sons, and husbands.

Mary Towles Sasseen

Years later, Mary Towles Sasseen, a South Bend, Indiana teacher, started conducting annual celebrations in 1887 to honor her love for her mother. Finally, Sasseen made it a national campaign for a Mother's Day Celebration. In 1894, she succeeded in having her first observance in a school system in Springfield, Ohio, on her mother's birthday, April 20th, and yearned for it to become a national holiday.

Her passion for this cause became illustrated in her "Mother's Day Celebration" pamphlet. In her pamphlet, she stated, "Home as the magic circle within which the weary spirit finds refuge; the sacred asylum to which the care-worn heart retreats to find rest. Home! That name touches every fiber of the soul. Nothing but death can break its spell, and dearer than home is the mother who presides over it."

Cities like Boston, Brooklyn, and Little Rock adopted the holiday, with 10,000 to 14,000 students reciting poems and singing songs to honor their mothers. Unfortunately, in 1906, Sasseen died on April 18th during childbirth.

Anna Jarvis

In 1907, Anna Jarvis led the national campaign to observe this holiday to honor her late mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis, known as Mother Jarvis, that died in 1905. Mother Jarvis was an Appalachian activist and homeworker that taught Sunday School. She had thirteen children; only four reached adulthood because they succumbed to diseases.

In the mid-1800s, she organized "Mother's Day Work Clubs" in West Virginia to advocate for sanitary living conditions and educate women on reducing the high infant and child mortality rates. During the Civil War, Mother Jarvis organized Mother's Friendship Day to encourage Union and Confederate veterans and their mothers to unite on the West Virginia battlefield because mothers have a "sacred right" to protect their sons. As a result, in the first couple of years, the North and South soldiers would spend their time shaking hands and weeping with their former foes.

To continue her mother's legacy, Anna Jarvis began celebrating Mother's Day on May 10th, 1908, first in Grafton, Virginia, at a church and second at the John Wanamaker & Company department store in Philadelphia. She chose that date because it was the closest to her mother's death anniversary. Jarvis began the custom of wearing carnations: a colored carnation to indicate your mother is living and a white carnation representing your mother is deceased. During the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church services, Jarvis wore a white carnation to honor her late mother.

Furthermore, she wrote letters to newspapers and held promotional events with florists to "popularize" events. Four years later, at the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Andrews Church introduced a "resolution" that people would now recognize Jarvis as the founder of Mother's Day. On May 8th, 1914, Congress, by joint resolution, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday of May as a national holiday.

Over the years, Jarvis became bothered by the holiday's commercialization and campaigned against those companies profiting from selling products like flowers, cards, and candy. Eventually, the holiday became associated with the women's anti-suffragist movement because some felt that a woman's place was in the home, not politics. Jarvis spent every penny to fight against the holiday's commercialization and threatened to sue anyone that used the "Second Sunday in May, Mother's Day" because she copyrighted it.

In 1944, she had 33 pending lawsuits, and her sister, Lillian, started a petition to get the holiday rescinded. Jarvis died in a sanatorium in Philadelphia at 80 from visual impairment, deafness, and poverty. Some have concluded that the commercialization of the holiday contributed to her death.

Happy Mother's Day to all! Although Anna Jarvis is the founder with whom most associate Mother's Day, we must continue to acknowledge the other three women that contributed to its popularity. The premise of this holiday is to recognize how important mothers are in our lives. They are irreplaceable, and we would not have existed without them. Unfortunately, Mother's Day will be sad for many because they must get accustomed to their new norm: an empty life without a mom. Life is constantly changing, but memories will last forever.


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