Mother's Day is a special tribute to moms because of a small-town woman's devotion to her community, her love for family and the deep bond she shared with her daughter. It's a story tinged with sadness, but one that intrigues and inspires, and in which sending flowers on Mother's Day plays a part.
You may not recognize the name Ann Reeves Jarvis, but by the late 19th century, she was well known to the local people of northern West Virginia. Born in 1832 in Culpeper County, Virginia, the daughter of a Methodist minister, Ann Reeves grew up and became a wife and mother. She married Granville Jarvis before she was 20. The newlyweds settled in Webster, West Virginia.
It’s believed that Ann and Granville had as many as 12 children, most of whom did not live into adulthood. They died from diphtheria, scarlet fever and whooping cough. Ann realized that the area’s poor sanitation, including uncovered garbage and bad ventilation, likely contributed to her children’s illnesses.
Despite her grief, Ann Jarvis became a community activist, launching designated days for mothers where local women came together to improve their surroundings.
During the Civil War, she organized women to nurse wounded soldiers of both sides. She focused her efforts on promoting peace and reconciliation after the war ended.
Meanwhile, poet and social activist Julia Ward Howe (author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic") wrote a Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870, which expressed her anti-war sentiments, but didn’t aim to create a Mother’s Day as we know it.
Ann Jarvis, who died on May 9, 1905, influenced the lives of many women, but none more so than her daughter Anna, who devoted much of her life to campaigning for a national holiday to commemorate all mothers and particularly her own.
The first official Mother's Day service was held on May 10, 1908, in Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia, where her mother had taught classes for 20 years. Anna saw it as a day to cherish love and show gratitude. She suggested that white carnations represented family bonds.
The same day, later in the afternoon, a similar service was held in Philadelphia; the family had moved there in 1902, after Granville's death. John Wanamaker, founder of the famed Philly department store, supported Anna's efforts to promote the day.
Built in 1873, the church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark. On May 15, 1962, the church was incorporated as the International Mother's Day Shrine Teleflora is corporate sponsor of the shrine.
"We needed a way to honor mothers for all that they do," says Chad Proudfoot, director of cultural resource management at West Virginia University and a member of the shrine’s board since 1997. He adds that the shrine attracts local and out-of-town visitors throughout the year, and functions as a "de facto community center." Services are held there on Mother’s Day. Now back to Anna's legacy. "She worked feverishly to promote [Mother's Day] at a state and national level," says Mr. Proudfoot. In 1914, the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution naming the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day and President Woodrow Wilson approved it.
The idea swept the nation as families celebrated by treating Mom to cards and candy, flowers and fanfare. "People really liked it," says Mr. Proudfoot. "It caught on and, once the ball was rolling, there was nothing you could do to stop it." Anna Jarvis, who never married or had children, eventually resented the element of commercialism. But as Mr. Proudfoot puts it: "It's a happy day for mothers, you show love for your mother. If you want to buy flowers or buy cards, that's all part of it. Our hope is that everyone celebrates it and makes the most of it." And giving Mother's Day flowers is a way to show you appreciate beauty - of flowers and the beauty of a mother's love.