In the late 1800s, Sunday school teacher Ann Reeves Jarvis was passionate about teaching women how to care for their children. Deeply religious, she often prayed that there could be a day set aside to honor hard-working mothers. After she died in 1905, her daughter Anna Jarvis campaigned tirelessly to fulfill that wish. Over the course of many years, she lobbied prominent individuals such as author Mark Twain, President Theodore Roosevelt, and dozens of U.S. governors to persuade them to declare the second Sunday in May -- the closest Sunday to the anniversary of her own mother’s death -- as Mother’s Day. On 8 May 1914, Congress passed a law making Mother’s Day an official holiday. However, it didn’t take long for Jarvis's idea to be co-opted by other causes and become a highly profitable business opportunity for the floral and greeting card industries, among others. For the remainder of her life, Jarvis fought a losing battle to keep Mother’s Day as she had originally conceived it and to prevent the holiday from becoming commercialized.
A love-hate relationship with Mother's Day:
- Anna Jarvis threatened lawsuits, wrote letters to politicians, issued bitter news releases, organized protests, and even fought with Eleanor Roosevelt to try to keep her idea of Mother’s Day pure.
- Jarvis even claimed legal copyright to the holiday, always signing letters “Anna Jarvis, Founder of Mother’s Day.” But the battle was a lost cause, and the childless woman who dedicated her life to honoring motherhood died in a sanitarium at age 84 -- alone, blind, and penniless.
- Mother’s Day has become one of the most profitable U.S. holidays. Consumer spending in 2017 was expected to reach a record high of $23.6 billion USD, the National Retail Federation estimated.