|A Pair of 19th-Century Women Inspired the Mother's Day America Celebrates Today|
Published: Friday, 04 May 2012 01:35
City of Grapton, West Virginia
St. Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton,W. Va. was the site of the first unofficial Mother's Day celebration on May 10, 1907.
Anna Jarvis took up her mother's crusade and ran a successful campaign to establish Mother's Day in the U.S.
Two women who experienced the Civil War first hand played roles in giving America the gift of Mother's Day.
In an effort to improve sanitation in her hometowon of Grafton, Va., Anna Reeves Jarvis introduced "Mothers Work Day" in 1858.
(Grafton is in West Virginia today. West Virginia parted ways with Virginia in 1863 when most of the new state's residents voted to join the Union side of the U.S. Civil War.) Grafton is near the town of Phillipi, the site of the Civil War's first land battle. General George B. McClellan used the Jarvis home as his headquarters duing the campaign.
In 1870 Julia Ward Howe, whom most remember as the author of the Civil War anthem The Battle Hymn of the Republic, tried to introduce a Mother's Day Peace Proclamation to the international peace conferences taking place in London and Paris after the Franco- Prussian War.
Howe penned her "Mother's Day Proclamation" as a pacifist reaction to the carnage that Howe had witnessed first-hand during the American Civil War.
The proclamation expressed Howe's belief that women (and not just men) had a responsibility to shape their societies at the political level.
Today, the Unitarian Church includes Howe's proclamation in its Universalist hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition.
A singing quartet called the Righteous Mothers released a recording of the proclamation in 2006.
By 1872, Howe was back home in Boston, promoting the idea of celebrating Mother's Day for Peace each June 2. Howe's idea caught on with Bostonians, but drew little attention elsewhere.
Little became of Anna Reeves Jarvis' attempts to establish Mother's Day. That task would fall to her daughter and namesake, Anna Jarvis.
Anna was no longer living in West Virginia when her mother died in 1905. She had moved to Philadelphia some 15 years earlier.
She became the power behind officially establishing Mother's Day. According to one story, she swore at her mother's grave that she would dedicate her life to bring about a day that honored mothers, both living and dead.
One Sunday, two years after her mother's death, Jarvis visited her mothers' church in Grafton, Saint Andrew's Methodist Episcopal. She passed out one white carnation for each mother in the congregation, 500 in all.
The following year, St. Andrew's became the first church to hold a Sunday service honoring mothers.
In 1908, John Wannamaker, a Philadelphia merchant, joined the campaign for Mother's Day. For the next six years Wannamaker financed Jarvis's efforts to have the entire United States officially recognize Mother's Day.
An established retailer in the City of Brotherly Love, Wannamaker owned Wannamaker Stores. Many credit him with establishing the idea of having customers come into a store, wander though the merchandise and make their selections.
Wanamaker was so famous that when Georger Bernard Shaw wrote Pygmalion in 1912 he snuck Wannamaker's name into the production, which included the character Alfred Doolittle.
In the play, an American philanthropist millionaire named "Ezra Wannafeller" leaves Doolittle a legacy. Shaw combined the first part of Wannamaker's last name with the last part of with John D. Rockefeller Sr.'s to come up with the name "Wannafeller."
In 1912, West Virginia became the first state to adopt an official Mother's Day. On May 11, 1913, Alabama Representative J. Thomas "Cotton Tom" Heflin and Texas Senator Morris Sheppard introduced a joint resolution in Congress to establish Mother's Day throughout the United States.
"There was hardly a dry eye in the house that day when 'Cotton Tom' delivered the speech that led to creation of Mother's Day," one story said.
The resolution garnered so much popularity that Heflin took matters one step further by introducing formal legislation to designate the second Sunday in May, Mother's Day.
On May 8, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill into law, and the second Sunday in May officially became Mother's Day throughout the land.
Anna Jarvis was not happy, however. In the end she had nothing but criticism for the commercialization of the day she helped create (and her benefactor John Wannamaker helped commercialize.)
"I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit," she said. She called Mother's Day cards poor excuses for the letters that sons and daughters were too lazy to write.
"And candy!" she wrote. "You take a box to Mother— and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment."
Anna Jarvis never had any children of her own. She died in 1948, blind and penniless. She rests next to her mother in the West Laurel Hill Cemetery in the Philadelphia suburb of Bala Cynwyd.