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HomeHistoryAnna Jarvis, Mother's Day founder, later fought to have the holiday abolished

Anna Jarvis, Mother’s Day founder, later fought to have the holiday abolished

Anna Jarvis, years after founding Mother’s Day was eating at Wanamaker’s Department Store in Philadelphia. They were serving a Mother’s Day Salad. When she was offered the salad, she ordered it and after it was finished, she stood up and dumped the bowl on the ground. She then left the money behind and walked out. Jarvis was losing control over the holiday that she had helped to create and was devastated by her belief in commercialism destroying Mother’s Day.

Ann Jarvis was Anna’s mother during the Civil War. She cared for both the wounded and the victors. Her mother also attempted to bring peace between Union and Confederate moms, forming a Mother’s Friendship Day. Her daughter was devastated when Jarvis, the elder, died in 1905. Jarvis’ daughter was devastated when her father died in 1905. She used to read sympathy cards and letters repeatedly, making sure to highlight all praises and compliments. Jarvis created a day to honor all mothers and found a way to remember her mother.

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Mother’s Day celebrations were held in Grafton (West Virginia) at Ann Jarvis’ Sunday School and in Philadelphia at Wanamaker’s department shop auditorium. Anna was unable to attend Grafton’s event, but she did send 500 white carnations, her mother’s favorite flower. To honor their mothers and the purity of mother’s love, sons and daughters were to wear the carnations.

Spreading the Word

Jarvis’s enthusiastic letter-writing and promotion campaigns throughout the country helped Mother’s Day to quickly catch on. John Wanamaker, H.J. and others supported her. Heinz and soon became a full-time volunteer for Mother’s Day.

In 1909, several senators ridiculed the idea of Mother’s Day. Senator Henry Moore Teller (D.CO) ridiculed the resolution as “puerile,” “absolutely absurd,” and “trifling.” He declared that “Every day with us is a Mother’s Day.” Senator Jacob Gallinger (R–NH) deemed Mother’s Day offensive, as though his mother’s memory could only be preserved by an outward display on Sunday, May 10.

Jarvis didn’t lose heart to the backlash. Jarvis enlisted the assistance of organizations such as the World’s Sunday School Association and the holiday passed Congress without much opposition in 1914.

Jarvis’ Mother’s Day campaign was supported by the floral industry. Jarvis accepted their donations and spoke at their conventions. The tradition of wearing carnations to Mother’s Day became more established with each passing year. White carnations were quickly outsold by florists all over the country around Mother’s Day. Newspapers reported on carnation hoarding, profiteering, and carnation hoarding. Later, the floral industry came up with a way to diversify its sales: promote wearing bright or red flowers in honor of mothers living and white flowers for moms who have died.

“Sentiment, Not Profit”

Jarvis quickly lost interest in the commercial aspects of the day. Jarvis wanted Mother’s Day to be “a day of sentiment, rather than profit.” She started calling for people to stop buying flowers or other gifts for mothers around 1920. The florists, greeting card producers, and confectionery industry were referred to as “charlatans bandits, pirates racketeers and kidnappers” by her. They would destroy with their greed one the most noble, noblest and truest celebrations and movements.

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She made thousands of celluloid buttons featuring the white carnation in response to the floral industry. She sent them free to all women’s, school and church groups. She threatened to sue the floral industry and applied to trademark the carnation with the words “Mother’s Day”. However, she was not granted the trademark. The Florist Telegraph Delivery (FTD), an association that deals in floral products, offered her a commission for the sale of Mother’s Day flowers. However, this only angered her more.

Jarvis’s efforts to stop florists’ promotion Mother’s Day using carnations went on. The 1934 Mother’s Day stamp was issued by the United States Postal Service. The image was created using a painting by James Whistler, commonly known as Whistler’s Mother. Jarvis was furious when she saw the result stamp. She believed that the vase of carnations was an advertising for the floral industry.

Jarvis’ ideal Mother’s Day celebration would include a visit to her mother or writing a lengthy letter. She was against greeting card sellers and used: “A maudlin or insincere printed greeting card or ready-made Telegram is nothing but that you are too lazy to write to the woman, who has done so much for you than anyone in the world.”

She said, “Any mother would prefer to have a line or two of the worst scribbles from her son/daughter than any fancy greeting cards.”

Going Rogue

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Jarvis opposed charities that used Mother’s Day to fundraise. Jarvis was taken by police to a meeting of American War Mothers and detained for disrupting the peace over her efforts to stop the sale carnations. She wrote sarcastic remarks against Eleanor Roosevelt because she used Mother’s Day as a way to raise money for charities that work to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates (the exact type of work Jarvis’s mother did in her lifetime).

Jarvis made one last public appearance, going door to door in Philadelphia asking for signatures for a petition to end Mother’s Day. She became a recluse in her later years and a hoarder.

Jarvis lived in West Chester’s Marshall Square Sanitarium for her final days, where she was in deep debt. On November 24, 1948, she died. Jarvis never learned that a group grateful florists paid a portion of her asylum bill.

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