Anna Jarvis (1864-1948) never married and never had children of her own, but her tireless efforts in favor of motherhood gave birth to Mother’s Day, a celebration known throughout the world.
Not surprisingly, Anna was inspired by her own mother, who had already passed away when Jarvis launched her campaign for a day to honor all mothers.
Mrs. Jarvis was a social activist who founded Mother’s Day Work Clubs and Mother’s Friendship Day to help heal the relationships between mothers of soldiers who had fought on opposing sides during the American Civil War. She also encouraged Anna to attend college.
Anna received a diploma after studying for two years at the Augusta Female Seminary (now Mary Baldwin College). While living in Philadelphia, she became the first female literary and advertising editor at Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Company.
On May 10, 1908, Anna organized a memorial ceremony to honor her mother and all mothers. The event, considered the first “official” celebration of Mother’s Day, was held at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, where Mrs. Jarvis had been an active member. The church was dedicated as the International Mother’s Day Shrine, a National Historical Landmark, in 1992.
Anna’s push for a widespread celebration of mothers included a dedicated letter-writing campaign. She contacted business executives, church groups, and state and national politicians. Philadelphia merchant and philanthropist John Wanamaker and Nebraska Senator Elmer Burkett lent their support to Anna’s cause.
In 1912, West Virginia became the first state to adopt an official Mother’s Day. Two years later, President Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day a national holiday. President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved a stamp commemorating Mother’s Day in 1934.
Mother’s Day is now celebrated throughout the U.S. and in a host of countries in South America and Africa. The holiday is also marked in Japan, China, Mexico, and Canada.