The History of Mother’s Day

Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother's Day

The History of Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is a holiday born near the dawn of the 20th century. It was conceived by a woman who, ironically, later degraded the holiday as too commercial and tried to stop it.

The holiday was not without precedent. Since antiquity, motherhood has been celebrated in some form. The Ancients celebrated their mother goddesses and later Christians celebrated Mothering Sunday. The latter began as a religious day that was part of Lent but transformed into a secular day for giving mothers gifts.

After the American Civil War, a day was recognized for the mothers of soldiers. Throughout the late 19th century, other mothers’ days were declared by the temperance movement and by suffragettes.

Modern Mother’s Day

What we recognize today as Mother’s Day was devised by Anna Jarvis, who was mourning her mother. Jarvis wanted a day that would acknowledge mothers’ sacrifices.

The first Mother’s Day event was held in a West Virginia church in 1908. The event was successful, and Jarvis started a letter-writing campaign to get the observation instated as a national holiday.

In 1914, the second Sunday in May became Mother’s Day in the United States. Mother is singular possessive because it is meant to signify a particular family’s mother, not every mother. The holiday also is celebrated around the globe at various times of the year.

It didn’t take long, however, for Jarvis to see her holiday transformed into a moneymaker for card companies, florists and shop keepers. This was not what Jarvis envisioned. She saw a day for church services and social visits, a day in which all mothers would wear white carnations.

Beginning in 1920 until her death in 1948, Jarvis worked tirelessly to stop the holiday.

Is Mother’s Day one of your favorite holidays?  Visit my Pinterest board Mother’s Day: 1890-1920 for images of mothers and children.


Updated: 26 October 2020
Melina Druga
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Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.
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