The bizarre, hate-filled history of Mother’s Day

(Published April 29, 2019)

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

The roots of Mother’s Day lie embedded in the blood-soaked soil of history.

Before President Woodrow Wilson recognized the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day in 1914, women had been fighting for the holiday since shortly after the Civil War.

According to National Geographic, Julia Ward Howe, author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” suggested a Mothers’ Peace Day in 1872.

Initially, people celebrated the holiday by meeting in churches, social halls or other public places to sing, pray and read essays about peace.

Chicago was among a handful of cities to take up the tradition, and Chicagoans celebrated the holiday in June until 1913.

But that version of the holiday failed to gain much popularity outside of peace activists. By the turn of the 20th century, people suggested a more politically neutral holiday to honor mothers.

One of those early proponents was former football coach Frank Hering. In 1904 he announced at an Indianapolis gathering of The Fraternal Order of Eagles that the group needed to promote one Sunday each year as a day for mothers. The national organization picked up the challenge through its member clubs to champion a mother’s day in cities across the country.

The group still considers Hering as the father of Mother’s Day, much to the everlasting ire of Anna Jarvis.

Jarvis is generally considered the founder of Mother’s Day even though her mother, Ann Jarvis, cared for Civil War wounded on both sides of the war and tried to start a Mother’s Friendship Day for Civil War mothers, according to Mentalfloss.com.

The elder Jarvis died in 1905. The younger Jarvis worked furiously through letters and talks around the world to promote a day in honor of mothers. Her idea caught on among some elite supporters, including H. J. Heinz and John Wanamaker. Nearly 10 years later, in 1914, Congress passed a law recognizing the holiday and President Wilson signed it into law.

Even so, Jarvis couldn’t stand that Hering and his fraternal organization promoted Hering as the originator of Mother’s Day. In the 1920s she issued a statement claiming he “kidnapped” Mother’s Day, according to National Geographic.

Jarvis wrote that Hering was, “making a desperate effort to snatch from me the rightful title of originator and founder of Mother’s Day, established by me after decades of untold labor, time, and expense.”

For the rest of her life, she signed everything, “Anna Jarvis, founder of Mother’s Day.” By 1920 she was already souring on the holiday’s commercial aspects.

According to mentalfloss.com, white carnations were always part of Mother’s Day, but soon florists added other flower arrangements, card companies designed greeting cards and stores were promoting Mother’s Day gifts and candies.

Outraged, Jarvis wrote that these commercial industries were, “charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations.”

She tried to get Mother’s Day trademarked, but the trademark office denied the request. FTD offered to share its profits with Jarvis, but this enraged her. In 1934 the post office issued a Mother’s Day stamp and this, too, infuriated her.

By Jarvis’ way of thinking, Mother’s Day should be celebrated with a handwritten letter to mom, and nothing more. Jarvis, it should be noted, had no children.

“A maudlin, insincere printed card or ready-made telegram means nothing except that you’re too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone else in the world,” she wrote.

In later years, she had to be dragged from public Mother’s Day events and she was arrested for trying to stop the sale of carnations and finally she tried to have the holiday rescinded.

Jarvis died in a mental health institution in Pennsylvania in 1948. She had no money, though, and her bill was paid by a florists’ association.

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