Do you think you know the story of Mothers Day? If your historical knowledge of the day begins and ends with a dutiful childs desire to honor and celebrate their mother, then you are under informed at best. A more inclusive knowledge would include the fact that Mothers Day became a national holiday in 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill setting aside the second Sunday of May as a special day to celebrate mothers.
This version is slightly better, but only slightly. The roots of Mothers Day are much deeper than that. The concept of Mothers Day was not originally to honor mothers or motherhood, but rather an idea that mothers band together during a time of deepest sadness to prevent their same burden falling upon others.
It was Julia Ward Howe in 1870 who penned the Mothers Day Proclamation. This document is credited with being the first official call for an observance of a mothers day. The intent, however, was far from the traditional celebration observed today. Instead of removing mothers from the kitchen and sitting them down in the bosom of their doting family to enjoy a relaxing meal and afternoon gift giving, the proclamation was a call to action.
Julia Howe, who had been deeply affected by the pains and horrors of the Civil War, called upon mothers everywhere to rally for peace. She stated, We women of one country will be to tender those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.
Who would ever have thought that this day of flowers, chocolates, and meals out had, at its core, the broken heart of a mother protesting war to spare other women the same agony?
If you are asking yourself what happened, you are not alone. How did this maternal peace rally become the lazy Sunday afternoon affair we now enjoy? The wheels of commercialism have all but buried Julia Howes original design and intent.
No early sponsors of Mothers Day stood by and let this metamorphosis take place without a fight. After Howes efforts, Mothers Day had yet to catch on, but the torch was taken up by Ann Reeves Jarvis and her daughter Anna Jarvis. Anna Jarvis saw the fledgling holiday begin to take wing, then in dismay, it drew the attention of the florist industry who smelled a major opportunity.
Florists were not wrong. Mothers Day today is a $14 billion dollar industry, and flowers are no small part of the spending. May sees the highest floral sales of the whole year, even beating out June and its attending plethora of weddings.
As florists began to advertise flowers for Mothers Day, and even hold Mothers Day events, Anna Jarvis began to decry the shift into commercialization of such an important day. She protested saying, [Mothers Day] is to be a day of sentiment, not profit.
Standing idly by was not her way. She took action. Jarvis sued sponsors of a Mothers Day events in an effort to prevent it from taking place. In 1930, she was arrested for disturbing the peace by trying to prevent the sale of flowers at a Mothers Day event. Not to be beaten, in 1938, Jarvis attempted to get a copy write for Mothers Day, enabling her to control use of both the term and the holiday itself.
In her attempts, she failed. She died alone, and ironically, childless, in 1948. Yet in spite of her destitute condition, she was cared for in her blindness by an anonymous benefactor who paid for her care. Any guesses who that benefactor was? The Florists Exchange. Anna Jarvis had been instrumental in getting Mothers Day set apart by the US Government as a national holiday that whatever else she did later was a minor imposition when compared to the jump in posy profits.
So, what are you getting for your mother this year? I dont think shed appreciate the history lesson and a call to make love, not war. Wherever Mothers Day may have begun, it is now a day to thank perhaps the most thankless of jobs. And if this means lining the pockets of corporate America, why fight the establishment? Your mom probably doesnt think about this what she wants is the time together!
To learn more about the history of Mothers Day and popular gift categories, click the graphic to the left.