The Dark Side to Mother’s Day

Mother's Day
Anna Jarvis

Mother’s Day seems quite harmless. You invite your mother to brunch, buy flowers, maybe even some chocolates and you enjoy good times together. 

But the history of this modern holiday is marked by a rampage of conflicts, controversies, and consumerism. Mother’s Day has a dark side and who other than someone like me- who doesn’t celebrate Mother’s Day- should point it out.

Mother’s Day began as an anti-war movement.

On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day “As a public expression of love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”

But President Woodrow was not the first to think of a special day for mothers. Miss Anna Jarvis, deeply sentimental, started a Mother’s Day observance on the second anniversary of her own mother’s death – May 9, 1907 – by gathering a few friends at her home for a memorial service. The movement spread and the holiday even made it overseas, where it was often merged with local traditions. Anna Jarvis went to great lengths to achieve and defend her role as “Mother of Mother’s Day” and to keep the holiday focused on children celebrating their mothers.

However, others came up with the idea first, but with a different agenda.

Julia Ward Howe, -known as the author of the poem The Battle Hymn of the Republic-, promoted at the beginning of 1872 a Mother-Peace-Day. For Howe and other antiwar activists, including Anna Jarvis’ mother, this was an opportunity to promote global unity after the horrors of the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War.

Howe called on women to meet once a year in salons, churches, or meeting halls and listen to sermons, present essays, sing hymns, or pray if they wanted -all in the name of peace. Several American cities such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago held annual Mother’s Day services on June 2 until approximately 1913.

This early Mother’s Day movement enjoyed some popularity with activist groups but disappeared when its advocates took center stage.

Someone tried to “kidnap” the holiday.

Frank Hering, a former football coach and faculty member at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, suggested the idea of ​​Mother’s Day even before Anna Jarvis. In 1904, he urged a congregation of the Fraternal Order of the Eagles in Indianapolis to reserve one day of the year for national memorial service in honor of mothers and motherhood.

Hering did not suggest a specific day or month but did express a preference for Mother’s Day to fall on a Sunday. The Brotherhood’s local aeries group took up the challenge. Even today, the organization lists Hering and the Eagles as “the true founders of Mother’s Day”.

Anna Jarvis didn’t like the idea that Mother’s Day had a FATHER with Hering. She sharply criticized him in an undated statement from 1902 entitled: “The Abduction of Mother’s Day: Will You Become an Accomplice?”

“Be so good as to refrain from supporting the selfish interests of this pretender,” wrote Jarvis, “He is making a desperate attempt to take from me the rightful title of creator and founder of Mother’s Day, which I have won after decades of immeasurable work, time and Established costs for me. “

Jarvis, who never had children herself, acted partly out of pride: “Everything she signed was signed with Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother’s Day. That was their identity. “

The Mother’s Day postage stamp. 

Mother's Day
A woman holds a 1934 poster advertising a Mother’s Day postage stamp designed by Franklin D. Roosevelt

Woodrow Wilson wasn’t the only president to put his mark on Mother’s Day. Franklin D. Roosevelt designed a stamp to commemorate the holiday in 1934.

The President presented a stamp that was originally designed in honor of the painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler and showed the famous portrait of “Whistler’s Mother”, Anna McNeill Whistler. Roosevelt framed the iconic mother’s portrait with a dedication: “IN MEMORY OF AND IN HONOR OF THE Mothers of America.”

Anna Jarvis didn’t approve of the design, and she refused to allow the word “Mother’s Day” on the stamp – so it never appeared there. It didn’t help that she found the stamp ugly.

The Founder of Mother’s Day hated everyone who raised funds over the holiday.

Since the early years of Mother’s Day, some groups have used the event as an opportunity to collect donations for charity -including for needy mothers and Anna Jarvis hated that.

She referred to these charities as “Christian pirates.” Today many of us would love it if the day would be used to raise money for poor mothers and mothers in need or WWI veteran families and other groups in need.

Jarvis however hated them for that. Largely due to the fact that at that time there were no organizations that controlled such charities. She was bothered by the idea that profit hunters would simply see the day as another way to make money.

The Mother of Mother’s Day lost everything in her struggle to protect her holiday.

It wasn’t long before Anna Jarvis’ Mother’s Day was commercialized, still, Jarvis fought against change.

“We take no pleasure in the fact that Mother’s Day turns into an arduous, expensive gift day like Christmas and other special days,” she wrote in 1920. “ If the American people are unwilling to protect Mother’s Day from the hordes of monetary strategists who want to crush it with their projects, then we will stop having Mother’s Day -and we know how too.” The American people didn’t listen.

Jarvis herself never profited from the day, despite the numerous opportunities presented to her as a minor celebrity. In fact, she went bankrupt trying to use what little money she had left to fight the commercialization of the holiday.

She died penniless in poor health and in a questionable emotional state at the age of 84. She had spent the last four years of her life in a sanitarium.

“Custody disputes” about Mother’s Day were fought in courts.

Anna Jarvis always viewed Mother’s Day as her intellectual property and her legal asset. She also did not shy away from calling in lawyers to defend it.

In a Mother’s Day press release, she issued a warning: “Any charity, institution, hospital, organization, or business that uses the name or emblem of Mother’s Day or work and celebrations in the wake of it to make money and sales should be supported by the relevant authorities are regarded as fraudsters and reported to this association. “

It is difficult to determine from the scattered court documents if Jarvis was happy with her approach. In 1944 a Newsweek article reported that she had 33 trials on Mother’s Day at the same time. I wish she would know that ‘Alexa’ names her as the founder of Mother’s Day.

Flowers are an original Mother’s Day tradition that still exists (somehow).

The white carnation, the favorite flower of Anna Jarvis’ mother, was the original flower of Mother’s Day.

“The carnation does not shed its petals, but presses them to their heart while it dies, and so mothers press their children to their hearts while their maternal love never dies,” Jarvis explained in a 1927 interview.

Nowadays the most popular flower seems to be “Mom’s Favorite Flower”.

Out of competition: Mother’s Day 2021 will be a 23 billion dollar cash cow.

This is not about history, but about the here and now. Sadly, the contradictions against fundraising and commercialization have brought absolutely nothing. According to an estimate by the United States Retail Association, this year’s Mother’s Day will see spending of $28 billion in the United States alone.

On average, every American will spend $18.39 on their mother. According to a survey, 77% plan to send a card. Mother’s Day is the third most popular card holiday after Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

About 69% of Americans will give flowers to their mothers. 36% plan to buy them jewelry.

In addition, Mother’s Day seems to be the most popular day of the year to go out to eat – around half of all Americans visit a restaurant on this day, according to a study.

As for me. I will ignore the day successfully, as I always do!

And now lean back and meet the crush of my youth!

21 thoughts on “The Dark Side to Mother’s Day

  1. My mother died when I was 8 years old, so I never had any ties to Mother’s Day. I also have no children, so missed it that way too. Like my views on xmas and now St. Valentine’s Day, they are all so over-commercialized that I cannot understand them. Every day of every year mothers need to be appreciated, loved ones need to be recognized, and there needs to be peace on earth and well wishes to all living beings. Having to spend money to celebrate these days, money a lot of families cannot afford, is just so wrong! They are engrained into our societies, not just Western societies, to the point they may be with us forever, until society gets a total overhaul. This is my sincerest hope for humanity, a total overhaul. Happy Day Everyday!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I couldn’t agree more. I myself didn’t have a relationship with my mother, but loved my grandma, who raised me. She didn’t like all the fuzz on one special day either and the older I get, the more I realize how right she was.
      Happy Day Everyday.

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  2. I learned a lot in this post, very interesting! I told my daughter for a couple of years now… it is not necessary for a gift of any kind, I just want to spend time with her and now her new husband.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What a fascinating bit of history, Bridget. I didn’t know anything about the origins of this day. I have always cringed with the over-the-top fuss on this particular Sunday, very aware of my friends who have really painful associations with their mothers.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I was always told very sternly that here it is Mothering Sunday and not that dreadful American invention of Mother’s Day. It has been celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent since the 16th century. Traditionally, it was a day when children, mainly daughters, who had gone to work as domestic servants were given a day off to visit their mother and family, and also, as Derrick says, to visit the mother church.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Mothering Sunday has been celebrated in the Christian church on the fourth Sunday in Lent since the Middle Ages. The 29th century American version and subsequent rampant commercialisation was just a newer take on it.

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