The Founder Of 'Mother's Day' Doesn't Want You To Celebrate The Occasion
NEW DELHI: Sunday, May 8, was celebrated as ‘Mother’s Day’ -- as you already knew given the flurry of Instagram and Facebook posts dedicated to our dear mothers.
Whilst you scrolled through your mamma-centric-for-a-day social media feed, the creator of ‘Mother’s Day’, Anna Jarvis, was probably turning in her grave.
Jarvis -- who founded Mother’s Day in 1908 after her own mother died -- eventually hated the special occasion, and wished she had never initiated the celebration in the first place.
Having spent a large part of her life working toward the creation of a national holiday devoted to overworked and underappreciated mothers, Javis eventually cautioned the world to not partake in the tradition, saying it had been “hijacked by charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations."
The first official Mother’s Day services took place in May 1908, as Javis came up with the idea as a way to honour her mother, Ann, after she passed away. After some resistance, the holiday took off, in part because of the lobbying efforts of florists and the holiday card companies.
The story goes that in 1876, Ann was teaching a class which included Anna, aged 12 at the time, about notable mothers in the Bible. Ann closed the lesson with a prayer: “I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother’s day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.”
Anna paid special attention to the prayer that day, thinking about the role of mothers in society. As she recalled years later, “This heartrending, agonizing prayer burned its way into my mind and heart so deeply, and it never ceased to burn.”
Anna’s mother was a major influence in her life; she took up various causes championing women’s issues through work clubs in West Virginia, including providing assistance to mothers with tuberculosis. Ann created a Mother’s Friendship Day to ease tensions and promote peace following the Civil War.
The idea for ‘Mother’s Day’ came after Ann died. Buzzfeed notes: According to Anna Jarvis’ brother Claude, “My sister Lillian and myself were standing beside the open grave on the side. As the bishop said, ‘Dust to dust, ashes to ashes,’ Anna broke out in a heartbreaking cry and said, ‘Mother, that prayer made in our little church in Grafton calling for someone, somewhere, sometime to found a memorial to mother’s day — the time and place is here, and the someone is your daughter. And by the grace of God, you shall have your Mother’s Day.’”
Anna then reportedly went straight home and began work on ‘Mother’s Day.’ From this point till 1908, Anna wrote a series of letters to policymakers and influencers, including President Teddy Roosevelt and 1908 presidential hopeful William Jennings Bryan. Others included Mark Twain and former Postmaster General John Wanamaker.
Her efforts began to bear fruit, and her campaign gained steam. After the Senate first rejected the proposal, it eventually gave in -- partly because of the campaigning by florists and cardmakers. On May 10, 1908, the first official Mother’s Day services were held in Grafton at Andrew’s Church and in Philadelphia. The venue had space for 5000, but 15,000 people showed up, as Anna spoke for 70 minutes.
Most states across the United States of America held Mother’s Day celebrations over the next few years. Governors expressed their support, and implored their citizens to observe the day and wear a white carnation. Anna soon declared the white carnation the official flower of Mother’s Day.
With ‘Mother’s Day’ a success, Anna had a hard time letting go of the phenomena; she wanted to own it. As Buzzfeed notes, “She incorporated herself as the Mother’s Day International Association, copyrighted her own photograph, and trademarked the Mother’s Day Seal with a drawing of a carnation and the words “Mother’s Day” (always singular possessive to distinguish from “Mothers’ Day” impostors), “Second Sunday in May,” and, of course, “Anna Jarvis Founder.””
Each year, Anna would publish a ‘Mother’s Day’ programme, that included a personal message, music and suggested readings. All this while she attacked the greeting card companies, florists and confectioners for profiteering off her holiday.
According to The New York Times, in 1923, Anna crashed the convention of the Associated Retail Confectioners in Philadelphia. “I want to tell you that you are using a beautiful idea as a means of profiteering,” she said, “As the founder of Mother’s Day, I demand that it cease … Mother’s Day was not intended to be a source of commercial profit.”
The Times story notes that in 1925, Anna was charged with disorderly conduct at a convention of the American War Mothers -- as the organisation was selling carnations. “It was alleged that Miss Jarvis appeared without invitation at the convention of War Mothers and protested against the adoption of the carnation as the emblem for that organization,” the Times reported.
She endorsed the boycott of florists who raised the price of carnations in May. In a letter to her cousin she wrote, “the florists are the leaders in causing me so much trouble.” She eventually rescinded the carnation as the official emblem for ‘Mother’s Day.’ “This will do away with profiteering tradesmen and carnation peddlers seeking their own profit through Mother’s Day,” she wrote as she replaced the carnation with a Mother’s Day International Association button.
No matter how hard she tried, Anna couldn’t stop ‘Mother’s Day’ from becoming the profitable phenomenon it was quickly growing into. "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," Anna later wrote. "Any mother would rather have a line of the worst scribble from her son or daughter than any fancy greeting card."
The question to ask is -- how did you celebrate ‘Mother’s Day’ yesterday? If it was with a greeting card, flowers or a box of chocolates, you are on Anna’s bad side. If it was with a social media post, the jury is still out on that one -- but given Anna’s opposition to the commercialisation of the occasion, chances are, she wouldn’t approve.