Speed Reads

Mother's Day

According to its founder, we're all celebrating Mother's Day wrong


Mother's Day as we celebrate it today is filled with flowers, presents, and elaborate brunches. But when it was founded 100 years ago, it was supposed to be a day of reflection, not buying things.

As National Geographic reports, in 1908, Anna Jarvis was spurred to action by the death of her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, a women's group organizer. She decided to start the first Mother's Day observances in West Virginia, Philadelphia, and other locations. Word spread across the United States, and as more and more cities began to celebrate, President Woodrow Wilson set the second Sunday in May aside for Mother's Day.

Jarvis stressed that the day was "Mother's Day," not "Mothers' Day," because "it wasn't to celebrate all mothers," explains Katharine Antolini of West Virginia Wesleyan College. "It was to celebrate the best mother you've ever known — your mother — as a son or a daughter." It didn't take long for the commercialization to happen, and Jarvis was upset by the holiday shifting toward material objects instead of sincere affection. She used her inheritance to fight against the new way of celebrating, even crashing a confectioners conference and organizing boycotts.

It was to no avail. Jarvis died in 1948 at the age of 84 in Philadelphia's Marshall Square Sanitarium, not really having changed anything. "This woman, who died penniless in a sanitarium in a state of dementia, was a woman who could have profited from Mother's Day if she wanted to," Antolini says. "But she railed against those who did, and it cost her everything, financially and physically." Now, try not to feel guilty as you finish that box of chocolates.