May 5th, 2014
Guest blog post by Brandi Oswald, Graduate Student Assistant, WVRHC.
May 9, 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of President Woodrow Wilson’s proclamation designating Mother’s Day as an official holiday. Wilson issued his proclamation in response to a movement started by Anna Jarvis to honor and recognize mothers. The holiday has its roots in Grafton, West Virginia.
Anna Jarvis, a native of the Grafton, West Virginia area, received her inspiration to create a day to honor mothers from her own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis. The elder Jarvis was a long- time community activist in Taylor County, organizing local mothers into work clubs to help improve the health of area families and children in the 1850s. During the Civil War, these women contributed to the comfort and health of soldiers stationed in the area. After the Civil War ended, Jarvis held a Mothers’ Friendship Day, which sought to heal the wounds between neighbors in war-torn Taylor County.
Ann Reeves Jarvis, the Mother of Mother’s Day, from A&M 1358
After her mother’s death on May 9, 1905, Anna Jarvis sought to establish a day to honor mothers. She had often heard her mother speak and pray for someone to start such a day. Jarvis sought to establish the day as a way for sons and daughters to recognize the hard work of their own mothers.
Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother’s Day
In 1908, on the second Sunday in May, Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church, in Grafton, West Virginia, held the first official Mother’s Day observance at the urging of Anna Jarvis. The date of the service coincided with the Sunday nearest to the anniversary of the death of her mother. The location was chosen because Ann Reeves Jarvis taught Sunday School for over 20 years at the church, and was an active member. Although Anna Jarvis did not attend the service held that morning, she donated 500 white carnations to the 400 attendees.
Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church, Grafton, West Virginia, site of the first observance of Mother’s Day in 1908. Today, it is the International Mother’s Day Shrine, a museum dedicated to motherhood and the founding of Mother’s Day.
Interior view of Andrews Methodist Church, Grafton, West Virginia.
Later that same day, a crowd of over 15,000 people, including Anna Jarvis, gathered in Philadelphia to pay tribute to mothers. In the years following its initial observance, Jarvis promoted her holiday, which quickly gained popularity and spread to forty five states and two territories by 1909. She also translated literature about Mother’s Day into over ten languages, which resulted in its spread internationally. Jarvis’ letter writing and promotional campaigns ultimately led to a Congressional Resolution and Presidential Proclamation in 1914, officially recognizing the second Sunday in May as a day to honor mothers. We continue to recognize this day as Mother’s Day.
The WVRHC contains numerous resources about Anna Jarvis and the founding of Mother’s Day. Holdings include photographs, which can be seen online at West Virginia History On View, in the Anna Jarvis Papers, and in a Mother’s Day collection that includes programs from Mother’s Day observances and articles about its history.