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The Storied Beginning of Mother’s Day

What is now a multi-billion-dollar industry began as a protest to the Civil War.

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Mother’s Day – It comes every year in America on the second Sunday of May, but it has had many forms over the years. Back in ancient Greece, people had big festivals in honor of mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele. The Greek influence spilled over into the rest of Europe, prompting other precursors to modern day celebrations, including what the British Empire called “Mothering Sunday.” Children would present tokens of appreciation and handpicked flowers to their moms. Eventually, this practice died out.

Mothers Working for Peace

The American version of Mother’s Day came from a protest of the Civil War. Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis was a devout Methodist who defied both sides by giving aid and support to soldiers and their families no matter which side they were from through her Mothers’ Day Work Clubs. The clubs were originally formed with local churchwomen to teach child-rearing to new mothers, but they quickly started serving during the war as cooks, cleaners, doctors, and nurses. They didn’t take sides; they just did what they could to help anyone who needed it.

In the summer of 1865, Jarvis organized a Mothers’ Friendship Day at the courthouse in Pruntytown, Pennsylvania, to bring together soldiers and neighbors of all political beliefs. The event went better than anyone expected and they started doing it every year.

Ruined by Commercialism?

Anna Jarvis was the daughter of Ann Marie Jarvis. She took up the community service mantle stitched by her mother and promised to make her own incarnation of Mother’s Day a national holiday.

Anna Jarvis

In May of 1908, her first Mother’s Day was financially backed by a Pennsylvania department store owner. It was to be a day to honor the sacrifices a mother makes for her children. Thousands of people joined in, and Jarvis went on to start a letter-writing campaign to make it a national holiday. President Woodrow Wilson deemed it an official national holiday – the second Sunday of each May – in 1914.

As is the American way, the greeting card suppliers, florists, and other merchants took the opportunity to make a profit. And Jarvis’ holiday became, in her eyes, a spectacle. In the 1920s she threatened to end the day all together.

Mother’s Day American Style

Today, Mother’s Day is a $25 billion one-day industry. About 122 million phone calls a

re made. On average, nearly $200 is paid over by each child to celebrate his or her mom.  But let’s face it: Commercialization of this holiday has made sure we all take a moment to ponder the sacrifices our own mothers have made.

National Columnist at and Sarah has been a writer in the political and corporate worlds for over 25 years. As a sought-after speech writer, her clients included CEOs, U.S. Senators, Congressmen, Governors, and even a Vice President. She’s worked as Contributing Editor at Scottsdale Life, a news reporter for the Journal and Courier, and guest opinion political writer for numerous publications nationwide. A born storyteller, Sarah has published a full-length book and is currently finishing a quirky, sarcastic, second novel.

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