Rev. Dr. Bonnie P. Harris
The modern holiday of Mother's Day was first celebrated in 1907, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother at St.
Andrew's Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. St. Andrew's Methodist Church now holds the International Mother's
Day Shrine. Her campaign to make Mother's Day a recognized holiday in the United States began in 1905, the year her
mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, died.
Ann Jarvis had been a peace activist who cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the American Civil War and created Mother's Day Work Clubs to address public health issues. She and another peace activist and suffragette Julia Ward Howe had been urging for the creation of a Mother’s Day dedicated to peace.
40 years before it became an official holiday, Ward Howe had made her Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870, which called upon mothers of all nationalities to band together to promote the “amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.” Anna Jarvis wanted to honor this and to set aside a day to honor all mothers because she
believed a mother is "the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world".
In 1908, the U.S. Congress rejected a proposal to make Mother's Day an official holiday, joking that they would also have
to proclaim a "Mother-in-law's Day". However, owing to the efforts of Anna Jarvis, by 1911 all U.S. states observed the
holiday, with some of them officially recognizing Mother's Day as a local holiday (the first being West Virginia, Jarvis'
home state, in 1910). In 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation designating Mother's Day, held on the second
Sunday in May, as a national holiday to honor mothers.
Although Jarvis was successful in founding Mother's Day, she became resentful of the commercialization of the holiday.
By the early 1920s, Hallmark Cards and other companies had started selling Mother's Day cards. Jarvis believed that the
companies had misinterpreted and exploited the idea of Mother's Day and that the emphasis of the holiday was on
sentiment, not profit. As a result, she organized boycotts of Mother's Day, and threatened to issue lawsuits against the
companies involved. Jarvis argued that people should appreciate and honor their mothers through handwritten letters
expressing their love and gratitude, instead of buying gifts and pre-made cards. Jarvis protested at a candy makers'
convention in Philadelphia in 1923, and at a meeting of American War Mothers in 1925. By this time, carnations had
become associated with Mother's Day, and the selling of carnations by the American War Mothers to raise money
angered Jarvis, who was arrested for disturbing the peace.
Internationally, there were immediate concerns surrounding the exclusive association of Mother's Day with a biological
definition of motherhood. Constance Adelaide Smith instead advocated for Mothering Sunday as an equivalent
celebration. She referred to medieval traditions of celebrating Mother Church, 'mothers of earthly homes', Mary, mother of
Jesus, and Mother Nature. Her efforts were successful in the British Isles and other parts of the English-speaking world.
Some countries, such as Russia, celebrated International Women's Day instead of Mother's Day or simply celebrate both
holidays, which is the custom in Ukraine. Kyrgyzstan has recently introduced Mother's Day.
In most countries, Mother's Day is an observance derived from the holiday as it has evolved in the United States,
promoted by companies who saw benefit in making it popular. As adopted by other countries and cultures, the holiday has
different meanings, is associated with different events (religious, historical or legendary), and is celebrated on different
In some cases, countries already had existing celebrations honoring motherhood, and their celebrations then adopted
several external characteristics from the US holiday, such as giving carnations and other presents to one's mother.
The extent of the celebrations varies greatly. In some countries, it is potentially offensive to one's mother not to mark
Mother's Day. In others, it is a little-known festival celebrated mainly by immigrants, or covered by the media as a taste of