– William Makepeace Thackeray
Jarvis spent decades fighting an uphill battle to keep Mother’s Day from becoming the commercialized holiday that it is today. To her, it was simply a day to honor mothers, and she started it to commemorate her own. So when people co-opted her idea for other purposes, Jarvis was incensed.
She started fights, threatened lawsuits, wrote letters to politicians, issued bitter news releases, organized protests, fought with Eleanor Roosevelt, demanded an audience with sitting presidents, among other actions.
She even claimed legal copyright to the holiday, Antolini said. Her letters were signed, “Anna Jarvis, Founder of Mother’s Day.”
“It became a part of her identity,” the historian said. “It was completely tied up in her ego.”
The fight that consumed Jarvis was waged in vain, and her campaign drained the modest fortune she’d inherited from her family. She died in a sanitarium at age 84 — alone, blind and penniless.
If she were alive today, Antolini said, Jarvis would’ve been thrilled that Mother’s Day remains popular.
“But she’d be upset that people don’t remember her,” the historian said.
She would probably be equally angered to know that the holiday is celebrated in part through Mother’s Day specials and sales, Hallmark cards and floral arrangements.
Born in Webster, W.Va., Jarvis created Mother’s Day because she was inspired by her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, a Sunday school teacher who helped start Mother’s Day Work Clubs to teach women how to care for their children.
After one lecture in 1876, Ann Reeves Jarvis prayed that somebody would create a day commemorating mothers for their service for humanity, Antolini said.
Twelve-year-old Anna Jarvis remembered that.
Her mother died in 1905, and Jarvis, then in her 40s, promised at her gravesite that she’d be the one to answer her prayer.
Over the next years, Jarvis embarked on a relentless letter-writing campaign to persuade governors of every state to declare the second Sunday of May — the closest Sunday to her mother’s death anniversary — Mother’s Day.
She wrote to Mark Twain, President Theodore Roosevelt and any other powerful politician she could think of to help her with her cause, Antolini said.
Mother’s Day became a national cause, but not the one Jarvis had in mind.
She spent the next years railing against flower shop owners, cardmakers and the candy industry for profiting off the holiday.
“They’re commercializing my Mother’s Day,” she complained in a letter to newspapers, according to a 1986 Washington Post story. “This is not what I intended.”
A news release she issued, according to a 1994 Post article, read: “WHAT WILL YOU DO to route charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and other termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations?”
She threatened to sue New York Gov. Al Smith over plans for a Mother’s Day meeting in 1923, according to a Post obituary published in 1948. In 1931, she fought with then-New York first lady Eleanor Roosevelt over a rival Mother’s Day committee.
At one point, she incorporated herself as the Mother’s Day International Association, although it’s unclear whether the corporation had other members, according to the obituary.
Even charities became the target of her disdain. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, charities held fundraising events on Mother’s Day to help mothers in need. Jarvis resented that.
“She didn’t want it to be a beggar’s day,” Antolini said. “She didn’t want the day to be turned into just another charity event. You don’t pity mothers; you honor them.”
I’m sorry, but Mother’s Day is bigger than one founder’s ego and intent. And the holiday is only enriched by the commercialism. Not impoverished, marginalized, and distorted by it.
Is it wrong for florists, card makers, candy makers, etc. to advertise and profit? Are they dishonoring the purpose put forth behind the myriad meanings behind motherhood? Should they provide their services for free? Should sons and daughters be discouraged from buying cards and chocolate for their mothers?
Is Mother’s Day bigger than jarvis’ original and limited intent behind a concept; or is the concept bigger than her and ultimately paying homage, in a roundabout manner? What of jarvis’ equal rant against charities trying to raise money for mothers in need as being against the spirit of the occasion, as she envisioned it?
It’s sad how she died and all, but it doesn’t make her beliefs right. The idea of celebrating mothers is bigger than her and her narrow, imprisoning vision of what should be celebrated on a day honoring mothers.
One of the best layman’s defense of “greed” and free market capitalism that had influenced me during my college years was John Stossel’s ABC special about the goodness of “Greed”.
A former fetus, the “wordsmith from nantucket” was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1968. Adopted at birth, wordsmith grew up a military brat. He achieved his B.A. in English from the University of California, Los Angeles (graduating in the top 97% of his class), where he also competed rings for the UCLA mens gymnastics team. The events of 9/11 woke him from his political slumber and malaise. Currently a personal trainer and gymnastics coach.
The wordsmith has never been to Nantucket.