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Mother's Day

Each year, on the second Sunday in May, America celebrates Mother's Day. This special day was the dream of a West Virginia woman, Anna Jarvis, and here is her story.

Anna was born in Philippi, West Virginia in 1864. After high school, she graduated from Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia and became a teacher in Grafton, WV.

During the Civil War, Anna's mother (also named Anna) worked as a nurse. Many of the wounded soldiers told Mrs. Jarvis how much they missed their mothers. After the war, Mrs. Jarvis organized a "Mother's Friendship Day" to reunite families split up by the war. Although the idea never really caught on, Mrs. Jarvis and her daughter Anna always dreamed of a national holiday to honor all mothers. When Anna's father died unexpectedly in 1902, she and her mother were unable to make ends meet in Grafton and moved to Philadelphia where Anna again took a teaching job. When Anna's mother died in 1905, the young woman was devastated and began to feel guilty about not doing enough to help her mother during the tough times they'd endured.

This period of depression stayed with Anna Jarvis for several years, ending only when she decided to dedicate the rest of her life to her mother's goal of establishing a national day honoring mothers. On May 10, 1908, she organized the first Mother's Day church service at the Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton. Anna presented carnations (her mother's favorite flower) to each mother in attendance, which began the tradition of giving flowers on Mother's Day.
Anna then began to inundate politicians and newspaper editors with letters calling for a national Mother's Day holiday, and the idea began to grow. Bills were passed in congress, despite considerable dissent, and Anna stood beside President Woodrow Wilson on May 8, 1914 as he signed the bill proclaiming the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day.

Anna Jarvis' success did not bring her happiness, however, as she became disillusioned with what she saw as commercial exploitation of "her mother's" special day. Now, Anna began another campaign against anyone whom she suspected of profiting from the holiday. She filed lawsuits against greeting card companies, candy makers and florists. She would show up unexpectedly at their meetings and rail at their commercialism. In the National Observer, she wrote: " A maudlin, insincere printed greeting card…means nothing except you're too lazy to write." She suggested, instead that mother's be honored with more practical gifts such as "…new eyeglasses or comfortable shoes. Give mother what she wants or needs or don't give her anything."

Unhappy and frustrated, Anna Jarvis found herself in a vigorous campaign against the holiday she'd created. The futile fight against the forces of capitalism wrecked the poor woman financially and emotionally. Her final years were spent alone, unmarried and childless. When she died in 1948 in a Philadelphia nursing home, she was nearly blind, diabetic, arthritic and nearly blind.

Back in Grafton, West Virginia, the Andrews Methodist Church has established an International Mother's Day Shrine and continues to hold a special Mother's Day service on the second Sunday each May. For more information, contact the International Mother's Day Shrine, P.O. Box 457, Grafton, WV 26354 or call (304) 265-1589 or (304) 265-1177…and "Happy Mother's Day."