Ann Reeves Jarvis was the mother of 13 children, only four of whom survived to adulthood.
In 1858, she began to organize “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” to improve her West Virginia community’s sanitary conditions and appalling infant mortality rates. In the wake of the Civil War, in 1868, she led a “Mothers’ Friendship Day” for war-bereaved mothers and veteran sons from the North and South. The day began understandably tense but ended with former foes weeping and embracing.
When Ann died in 1905, her daughter Anna organized a small service in honor of her mother on the second Sunday in May at the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia. By 1908, the memorial holiday had caught on and was celebrated throughout West Virginia as well as Philadelphia. The governor of West Virginia made Mother’s Day an official holiday in 1910, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made it an official national holiday, celebrated on the second Sunday in May.
At Anna’s specific request, the apostrophe in “Mother’s Day” is placed after “Mother” -- making it singular possessive, not plural possessive, so each family would honor its one and only mother.
There have been controversies over the years over the commercialization of the day. Anna herself vehemently protested against florists who raised the prices of white carnations every May. She argued that the day should be a private day for a family to honor their mother.
The day’s importance has nonetheless caused it to endure. Mothers deserve the honor and the love it conveys in all its forms – whether through commercialized gifts, public celebrations, or private hugs.