During my Mother’s Day reflection on Sunday, I asked the people if anyone could recall the origin of the Mother’s Day celebration. There was a long silence as nobody had ideas.

The importance of a historical perspective to anything we celebrate, including Mother’s Day, does not need much emphasis. So, what is the history behind Mother’s Day? It did not fall from the skies anyway.

Modern-day Mother’s Day goes back to a Philadelphia schoolteacher Anna Jarvis. Anna’s mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, had, before her death in 1905, co-founded a club for mothers with a focus on maintaining good sanitary conditions.

Anna Jarvis had the idea of honoring mothers for their love and selfless roles in child upbringing. With the support of John Wanamaker, a departmental store owner, the first formal Mother’s Day was celebrated on the Second Sunday of May 1908 in their home church, St. Andrews Methodist Church Grafton, West Virginia, and in one of Wanamaker’s retail stores in Philadelphia.

The success of Mother’s Day in the following years prompted the State of West Virginia to make it an official holiday in 1910. Other States and cities followed.

Through the Mother’s Day International advocacy that Jarvis formed, president Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day a national holiday in 1914; Canada followed in 1915. Over the years, many other countries joined the Mother’s Day celebration and retained it on the Second Sunday of May.

So, what happened to Anna Jarvis? She died in 1948 at the age of 84 years. Anna died penniless because she spent all her savings fighting legal battles against the commercialization of Mother’s Day. Anna Jarvis had no child, and nobody bothered to keep her memory alive.

Every year, on the Second Sunday of May, we celebrate Mother’s Day, but nobody remembers Anna Jarvis, the “mother” of Mother’s Day. There are no memorial insignias or souvenirs in honor of Anna Jarvis.

It is only fair to give honor to whom honor is due. So when next we celebrate Mother’s Day, let us try to spare a minute of thoughtful prayer for Anna Jarvis!


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