Methodist History: The Founding Mothers of Mother’s Day
Mothers of U.S. Mother’s Day were West Virginia Methodists
By the United Methodist News Service
The celebration of Mother’s Day can be traced back to ancient Greece, but the mother of Mother’s Day in the United States was Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, a Methodist from West Virginia.
Her daughter, Anna, led a successful campaign in the early 1900s to have Mother’s Day recognized as a national holiday.
Anna was not quite 2 years old when her family moved to Grafton, four miles south of Webster, W.Va. According to historical records, Anna heard her mother express hope that a memorial would be established for all mothers, living and dead.
After the death of her father in 1902, Anna — along with her mother and sister, Lillie — moved to Philadelphia to reside with her brother, Claude. After Ann’s death on May 9, 1905, Anna began an intense campaign to fulfill the wish of her mother.
On May 10, 1908, the third anniversary of Ann’s death, a program was held at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton and in Philadelphia, launching the observance of a general memorial day for all mothers.
Subsequently, the church observed Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of May each year, making Andrews the mother church of Mother’s Day. The church, no longer an active Methodist congregation, was incorporated as an international shrine in 1962 and is open to the public from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each weekday between April 15 and Oct. 15.
For the first official Mother’s Day service in 1908, Anna sent 500 white carnations to the church to be given to the participating mothers. During the next several years, she sent more than 10,000 carnations there. Carnations — red for the living and white for the deceased — became symbols of the purity, strength and endurance of motherhood.
In her campaign to have Mother’s Day recognized as a national holiday, Anna called on clergymen, business leaders and politicians for help. Those included John Wanamaker, who presided over a Mother’s Day service in the 5,000-seat auditorium of his Philadelphia store on May 10, 1908. More than 15,000 reportedly tried to attend the event, where Anna spoke for more than an hour.
The first Mother’s Day proclamation was issued by West Virginia’s governor in 1910. The day was celebrated in most states in 1911.
In 1914, the U.S. House and Senate approved a resolution proclaiming the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day. President Woodrow Wilson endorsed it, and Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan proclaimed it.
Today, countries around the world celebrate Mother’s Day. Some — including Finland, Italy, Turkey, Australia and Belgium — have joined the United States in observing it on the second Sunday in May.
Anna spent her remaining years promoting the Mother’s Day movement but was unsuccessful at thwarting what she considered commercialization of the day.
She died in 1948 at age 84 and was buried in Philadelphia. On the day of the funeral, the bell on Andrews Church in Grafton tolled 84 times in her honor.
The home where Anna was born in the village of Webster, W.Va., has been restored as a museum and is open for visitors from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday and all holidays, March through December.
This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN.
Media contact is Fran Walsh, 615-742-5458.