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The Origins of Mother's Day

While some may beleive Mother's Day is a figment of Hallmark's imagination, Mother's Day does have origins in the 20th century. It is the story of a woman who wanted to honor her friend, her mother.


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"M" is for the million things she gave me,

"O" means only that she is growing old,

"T" is for the tears that she shed to save me,

"H" is for her heart of purest gold,

"E" is for her eyes, with love-light shining,

"R" means right , and right she'll always be ,

Put them all together and they spell Mother, a word that means the world to me.

-- Howard Johnson (Found at

Lyricist Howard Johnson came up with a song for mothers that could be a Mother's Day standard. A man who obviously loved his mother, he also wrote the song, "Ireland must be Heaven for my Mother Came from There". He is also known for the song that brings out the kid in all of us, "I Scream, You Scream, We all Scream for Ice Cream." (

Being a mother, I have to admit that I love Mother's Day. I love the cute little gifts the kids make in church and at school. Last year, I received a paper box vase with paper flowers. An inside compartment included strips of paper that detailed what chores my children could do for me. My only job was to pick a strip of paper out and let my sons know which chore they were to do. Too bad, it's not that easy everyday! Some Mother's Days, if I am lucky, I get a handprint in concrete or a card made with tissue paper decorations. Although our commemoration of Mother's Day is steeped in 20th century origins, in actuality, mothers have been celebrated throughout the ages.

An official yearly celebration of mothers was an idea started by Anna Jarvis, in memory of her mother Anna Marie Reeves Jarvis (1832-1905). Anna Marie Reeves Jarvis was married to Granville Jarvis and was the mother to his 11 children. The elder Mrs. Jarvis was a great leader in organizing women to help those in need. She began Mother's Day Work Clubs with local churches. These clubs helped nurse ailing families, provided medicines, and inspected milk for children. Her work continued during the Civil War by assisting with the care of those soldiers stricken with typhoid or the measles, from both the Union and the Confederacy.

After her mother's death, the younger Anna decided that she would work to establish a Mother's Day that would honor mothers living and dead. Her quest began in 1907 when she gave out 500 white carnations to all the mothers in attendance at her mother's church, St. Andrew's Methodist Episcopal, in Grafton, West Virginia. The next year, that same church agreed to hold a Sunday service that would honor mothers. This work was so important to Anna that she would give up her employment so that she could concentrate on writing and requesting support for her idea from politicians, clergy members, and other community groups and leaders.

Anna was not the only one with the idea to establish such a day. The YMCA urged a Nebraska senator to introduce a bill in 1908 establishing a Mother's Day; although it failed, various groups did not give up on the idea. Julia Ward Howe, the author of the words for the patriotic tune, the Battle Hymn of the Republic, began in 1872 working to establish a Mother's Day that would honor peace, womanhood, and motherhood. Her attempts in trying to bring about a Mother's Day was informed by her work as a peace activist and supporter of a women's movement (

In 1914, after some states had already adopted a Mother's Day, President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill establishing an official Mother's Day to be celebrated through the United States. Although it would seem Anna's wish came true, she later became concerned at the commercialization of Mother's Day and grew to oppose the buying of greeting cards for Mothers ( So it would seem that the Mother's Day that your grandmother was treated to might be a lot like the one you celebrate. Ironically, the younger Anna Jarvis never married and was never the mother to any children.

A wonderful history of Anna Reeves Jarvis, can be found on, If you are feeling sentimental this year, try ebay for vintage Mother's Day cards and poems. Or you can make your own card using free Victorian graphics found at or with a template provided by the Martha Stewart Living web site, . It is said that Mother's Day is the most popular day to go out to a restaurant, but Father's Day is the most popular day to make a long distance phone call.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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