The History of Mother’s Day

The History of Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day has roots in several societies around the world, with versions practised in both ancient Greece and Rome under different names.

However modern Mother’s Day is recognised as having begun in 1908 when a West Virginian woman, Anna Jarvis, held a memorial service for her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, who had died three years before.

Ann Reeves Jarvis was instrumental in creating “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” that promoted cleanliness in everyday living as a way of combating disease. This program included education on basic hygiene practices, and was organised by groups of local mothers that took the message back to their families. During the American Civil War she became a peace activist and was well known for her work in nursing wounded troops, both Confederate and Union.

After her death daughter Anna agitated for a formal recognition of Mothers Day, both in honour of her own mother but also as a recognition of the work and efforts done by all mothers around the country. On May 10 1908 she organised a service for her mother at St. Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia – an occasion now recognised as the first Mother’s Day.

Jarvis kept up her efforts to promote the idea further and by 1911 all US States recognised the day. Three years later, in 1911, President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May to be a national holiday, known as Mother’s Day, to acknowledge the tremendous contribution of mothers to the nation. However after elation following her success in gaining the recognition she sought, Jarvis became increasingly resentful of the commercialisation of the day, and she campaigned strongly to prevent this.

Mother’s Day however continued to grow strongly and today is celebrated across many countries. St. Andrews Methodist Church, where Jarvis began the tradition, was declared the International Mother’s Day Shrine on May 15 1962.


Image credit: Portrait of Anna Jarvis – the recognised founder of Mother’s Day, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.