‘Mother’s Day’ Becomes Official U.S. Holiday
Setting aside a day to honor mothers is a tradition celebrated in many cultures and countries, from ancient times to today. In the United States, Mother’s Day became an official national holiday with the signing of a proclamation by President Woodrow Wilson on May 9, 1914. Some form of a mother’s day, however, had been celebrated in America since shortly after the Civil War, begun as small local gatherings of women whose sons had fought each other in the war.
One such woman, Ann Jarvis, established a “Mother’s Friendship Day” committee in 1868, but her dreams of having this established as a national observance had not been realized by the time she died on May 9, 1905. Her daughter, Anna Marie Jarvis, carried on the struggle to create a national day to honor mothers.
On May 10, 1908, Anna Marie Jarvis held a service to honor her mother and all mothers in the Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia. She delivered 500 carnations at that service, her mother’s favorite flower, thereby establishing one of the first traditions of Mother’s Day. Two years later the state of West Virginia established Mother’s Day as an official holiday, and four years later Congress passed the joint resolution that President Wilson signed on May 9, 1914, establishing the second Sunday in May as “Mother’s Day.”
There is an irony to Anna Marie Jarvis’s successful campaign. To help promote her idea and persuade government officials, she enlisted the help of a wealthy merchant named John Wanamaker, who enthusiastically embraced the concept. Flower and greeting card merchants—and restaurant owners—are forever thankful that he did, as Mother’s Day has become an enormously profitable day for them. The irony is that Anna Marie Jarvis came to despise the commercialism that “ruined” the day she worked so hard to create. In fact, in 1948 (she died in November of that year) she was arrested for disturbing the peace during a demonstration against how commercial Mother’s Day had become.
The following two newspaper articles describe the beginnings of Mother’s Day as an official holiday in the United States. Note in the second article the outcry against one aspect of the already-intense commercialization of the holiday: the exorbitant increase in the price of carnations on Mother’s Day.
This copyrighted article describing President’s Wilson’s proclamation was published by the Cleveland Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) on May 10, 1914:
Orders Tribute to Mother’s Day
President Wilson Issues Proclamation for Flag Display
Approves Joint Resolution in Recognition of Occasion
Washington, May 9.—President Wilson today approved a joint resolution setting apart tomorrow as Mother’s Day, and issued a proclamation commanding that all flags be displayed in observance of the occasion.
“Whereas, by the said joint resolution it is the duty of the president to request the observance of the second Sunday in May as provided for in the said joint resolution:
“Now, therefore, I, Woodrow Wilson, president of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the said joint resolution, do hereby direct the government officials to display the United States flag on all government buildings and do invite the people of the United States to display the flag at their homes or other suitable places on the second Sunday in May as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.
“In witness thereof I have set my hand and cause the seal of the United States to be hereunto affixed.
“Done at the city of Washington, this 9th day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and fourteen, and of the independence of the United States one hundred and thirty eight.”
This copyrighted article about the celebration of Mother’s Day and the exorbitant price of carnations was published by the Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) on the front page of its May 10, 1914, issue:
Country Will Pay Honor to Mothers Today
Affectionate Memorial to Maternal Love and Self-Sacrifice
White Carnation, Emblem of Day, Boosted to Prohibitive Prices by Flower Dealers
Mothers living and mothers who have gone, today will have paid to them the loving and reverent tribute of the entire country, for today is Mother’s Day.
Of comparatively recent adoption, Mother’s Day, by the very sentiment which it typifies and represents, has taken a strong hold upon every man, woman and child, and the day will be an affectionate memorial to the spirit of love, tenderness and self-sacrifice which the very name “mother” suggests.
In church services, by the wearing of flowers on the street, and by more intimate reminders within the homes, the mothers throughout the country will know that they are being honored for the part they have played, and which mothers must always play, in the history not only of the Nation but of civilization itself.
What was characterized as the greed of flower growers and commission merchants, in demanding abnormal prices for carnations and other flowers emblematic of the spirit of the day, threatened to deprive many of the floral tribute which otherwise they would have displayed, but it in no way dimmed the affectionate remembrances which today will be made to mothers.
Theme for Sermons
It will be the particular theme in most of the pulpits throughout the city and State, and the day will be spent in the celebration of a home patriotism—a revering of the home, in which the mother is the real patriot and the real, though modest, exemplifier of self-sacrifice and devotion.
Flower difficulties began early yesterday morning when the price of white carnations, which originally were used almost entirely in celebrating Mother’s Day, began to jump to almost unheard-of figures. Buyers declined to meet the artificial prices, and turned to pink and red carnations, when, according to one dealer, the commission men immediately boosted those prices also.
Many persons complained that the result was virtually to defray Mother’s Day—so far as concerned the wearing of floral emblems on the street—for in some instances prices ran to twelve, fourteen and fifteen cents for a single carnation. It was almost impossible to get one for less than ten cents.
“The wholesale price for white carnations,” said one dealer, “is from eight to twelve cents apiece. A few days ago the same carnations could have been had for $2, $3 and $4 a hundred. The price is fixed by commission men to whom the growers turn over their product to get the highest prices possible.
“The result of the artificial increase in prices has been to decrease the number of sales. Fewer carnations will be worn this Mother’s Day than on any previous one, I believe, and for no other reason than that the commission men attempted to force the people to pay exorbitant and unreasonable prices.”