In the United States, Julia
Ward Howe suggested the idea of Mother's Day in 1872. Howe, who wrote the words to the
Battle Hymn of the Republic, saw Mother's Day as a day dedicated to peace after having
lived through the horrors of the United States' Civil War.
Miss Anna Jarvis (1864-1948) of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is credited by most with
bringing about the official observance of Mother's Day in the United States. Miss Jarvis
wanted a way to honor her beloved mother, Anna Reese Jarvis, who died in 1905. The idea
probably came from Mrs. Jarvis herself, who, in the late 19th century, had tried to
establish "Mother's Friendship Days" as a way to help heal the scars of the
Civil War. The first Mother's Day observance was a church service held on May 10, 1908 in
Grafton, West Virginia, and in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania arranged by Anna Jarvis.
At that first service, Miss Jarvis furnished carnations, her mother's favorite flower. She
chose white carnations to represent the sweetness, purity and endurance of motherly love.
In time, red carnations came to signify that one's mother is living, while white
carnations came to mean one's mother has died.
Miss Jarvis was so moved by the service honoring her mother that she began a nation-wide
campaign to adopt a formal holiday honoring all mothers. In 1910, West Virginia became the
first state to recognize Mother's Day. A year later, nearly every state officially marked
the day. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson officially proclaimed Mother's Day a national
holiday to be held on the second Sunday of May.
Almost immediately, Mother's Day became an enormously commercial holiday. Disillusioned by
the commercialism, Miss Jarvis spent the rest of her life working diligently to reverse
what she played such a major role in creating. At one point she filed a lawsuit to stop a
1923 Mother's Day festival and was even arrested for disturbing the peace at a war
mothers' convention where women were selling white carnations to raise money. "This
is not what I intended," Jarvis once said. "I wanted it to be a day of
sentiment, not profit!" By the time she died in 1948 at age 84, Miss Jarvis, who was
never married and had no children, had spent all of her money unsuccessfully trying to
stop the commercialization of the holiday she worked so hard to found.
Today, Mother's Day is celebrated throughout the world. Although Mother's Day is not
celebrated on the same day everywhere, some countries, such as Denmark, Finland, Italy,
Turkey, Australia and Belgium also celebrate Mother's Day on the second Sunday in May, the
same day it is celebrated in the United States.