The Origin Of Mother’s Day Is Weirder Than You Think

It's not a Hallmark invention in case you were wondering.

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Mother’s Day is just a lovely day for being reminded to buy a card and some scented candles for the awesome lady who squeezed you out of her birth canal, right? Yeah, but nah.

For the real story behind Mother’s Day we have to go back to 19th century America, when social activist Ann Jarvis first organised a group of mothers to help out with sanitation at camps on both sides of the civil war during a typhoid outbreak. These “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” continued after the war ended, as Jarvis formed a “Mother’s Friendship Day” committee to unite families separated by the hostilities and do other charitable work.

After her death Ann Jarvis’s daughter Anna Jarvis campaigned to have her mother’s work, and the contributions of all mothers, recognised with a national holiday. The first informal ceremony was held in 1903 at a church in West Virginia, and attendance grew every year; the church has since been renamed The International Mother’s Day Shrine. Ann Jarvis’s campaigning was ultimately successful in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May a national holiday and other countries followed suit.

But Anna Jarvis wasn’t happy with the commercialisation of Mother’s Day that followed. Mother’s Day is third to Christmas and Valentine’s Day in terms of Hallmark sales, and though Anna Jarvis declared the white carnation – her mother’s favourite flower – the official symbol of the day, she was dismayed to see their prices raised every May to profit from it.

Jarvis spent years of her life fighting against the holiday she had created, and was arrested for disturbing the peace after crashing a convention in 1925. She spent all of her money organising boycotts and publicising her fight, and was eventually locked in a sanatorium, penniless and suffering from dementia. When she died there in 1948, she was buried next to her mother.

Happy Mother’s Day!