The remarkable true story behind Mother's Day.

I don't know about you, but I always assumed it was some big corporation that came up with Mother's Day to sell us things. 

But no, it was a woman called Anna Jarvis, who was one of 13 children born to Ann Reeves Jarvis in West Virginia. 

After the birth of her sixth child, Ann started organising what she called Mothers' Day Work Clubs to educate families on better hygiene practices in the home. It was the 1800s, and in their community infant and child mortality rates were high because of disease. Only four of Ann's own children survived to adulthood.

Ann Jarvis (left) and her daughter Anna Jarvis (right). Image: Getty.


During the Work Clubs, mothers learnt about things like the importance of boiling drinking water and quarantining entire households to prevent epidemics, while also providing medicine and supplies to other sick families. 

During the American Civil War in the 1860s, members of the clubs helped care for the injured and later once the war had ended, they helped reunite veterans and their families.

When she was 12, Anna witnessed her mother deliver a prayer at a local Sunday school. 

"I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mothers' day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it," her mother said. 

In May, 1905, Ann passed away and at her funeral Anna declared that, "by the grace of God, you shall have that Mother's Day".

She began campaigning politicians and people in power to consider a holiday to honour mothers for their invaluable and selfless role. She wanted it to occur on the second Sunday of May, so it was always close to May 9, when her own mother died. Her motto for the day was, "For the Best Mother who Ever Lived - Your Mother".

Sidenote: For a laugh, watch the horoscopes as new mums. Post continues after video. 

Video via Mamamia

As Britannica reports, historians have noted the striking contrast between the Mother’s Day founded by Anna Jarvis and the Mothers' Day envisioned by her mother. 

While Ann hoped for mothers to be recognised for their service in every field, Anna's focus was more on recognising a mum's role within the family.

Anna's decision to have the holiday on a Sunday was a smart move, Antolini, a professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College told the BBC. It appealed to churches, it had a great commercial appeal, and it was a message everyone could get behind. 

On the first official Mother's Day in 1908 held at the Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia, Anna handed out hundreds of white carnations (her mum's favourite), to all the mothers in attendance. 

Word spread. By 1910 it was a state holiday in West Virginia and by 1914 it was a national holiday across America. 

While some churches celebrated it earlier in Australia, the first more widespread celebration of Mother's Day here was in 1924, following the losses of World War I.

"There were so many mothers who were no longer mothers, so many wives who were now widowed because of WW1, and there were also so many women who never had the prospect of becoming mothers or wives because a whole generation had been wiped out in the trenches of the Western Front," Richard Waterhouse, emeritus professor of Australian history at Sydney University, told the ABC.

It was a Sydney woman called Janet Heyden who pushed for the idea, concerned for the lonely, forgotten mothers at a local hospital she visited. 

It was also during the 1920s that the commercialisation of Mother's Day kicked off with companies like Hallmark and florists jumping on the opportunity.


Nowadays, Mother's Day is often about a card and a present. Image: Getty

But Anna was devastated by how quickly it changed. She had designed the day to be sentimental, but it was turning into a cash-grab. By 1920 she was urging people not to buy flowers at all. 

"WHAT WILL YOU DO to rout charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and other termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations?" she said in a press release, as reported by the BBC.


She never profited from the day. She and her sister survived on the inheritance of their father and Anna spent her later years fighting the commercialisation of the day with what little money she had. 

She claimed copyright and threatened to sue anyone who marketed it without her permission. Aged in her 80s, she started a petition trying to get Mother's Day rescinded.  

She died in 1948 aged 84, with her relatives telling the BBC she became "obsessed" with her anti-commercialisation crusade, and near the end was living in quite desolate conditions in a run-down old home. 

The family honour her by not celebrating Mother's Day. 

And no, in case you're wondering, Father's Day wasn't just created as a reaction to Mother's Day. It was American woman Sonora Smart Dodd who pushed the idea in honour of her late dad who raised six children alone after her mother died in childbirth. 

It was first recognised at the family's local church, before it to spread across the country in 1910. By 1972 the third Sunday in June was declared national Father's Day. 

Here in Australia we celebrate in September, with one of the first mentions is noted in the Newcastle Sun in 1936. The article hoped the day would become "as popular" as Mother's Day. 

As for why we celebrate in September instead, the ABC suggests it's for no other reason than the fact it provides ample space between the two days. 

It is all about commercialisation now, after all. Much to Anna's horror. 

Feature image: Getty.

Are you a mum? We want to hear from you! Share your thoughts in the below survey. PLUS as a token of our appreciation…you’ll go in the running to win a $50 gift voucher!