Here's a short history of the woman who created Mothers Day for her mom and took it national, only to fight against the commercialization of her passion:
Katharine Antolini, a historian who has studied Jarvis and how Mother’s Day became a national holiday.
While dining at a Philadelphia tearoom owned by her friend John Wanamaker, Anna Jarvis ordered a salad — then dumped it on the floor. Jarvis hated that the food was called “Mother’s Day Salad,” named after a celebration of mothers that she had pioneered years earlier. To her, it was a cheap marketing gimmick to profit off an idea that she considered to be hers, and hers alone.
She started fights, threatened lawsuits, wrote letters to politicians, issued bitter news releases, organized protests, fought with Eleanor Roosevelt, demanded an audience with sitting presidents, among other actions. She even claimed legal copyright to the holiday, Antolini said. Her letters were signed, “Anna Jarvis, Founder of Mother’s Day.”
If she were alive today, Antolini said, Jarvis would’ve been thrilled that Mother’s Day remains popular. “But she’d be upset that people don’t remember her,” the historian said. She would probably be equally angered to know that the holiday is celebrated in part through Mother’s Day specials and sales, Hallmark cards and floral arrangements.
On May 8, 1914, Congress passed a law declaring the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day.
She spent the next years railing against flower shop owners, cardmakers and the candy industry for profiting off the holiday. “They’re commercializing my Mother’s Day,” she complained in a letter to newspapers, according to a 1986 Washington Post story. “This is not what I intended.”
A news release she issued, according to a 1994 Post article, read: “WHAT WILL YOU DO to route charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and other termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations?”
Even charities became the target of her disdain. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, charities held fundraising events on Mother’s Day to help mothers in need. Jarvis resented that. “She didn’t want it to be a beggar’s day,” Antolini said. “She didn’t want the day to be turned into just another charity event. You don’t pity mothers; you honor them.”
By the early 1940s, Jarvis had become undernourished and was losing her eyesight. Friends and associates placed her in a sanitarium in West Chester, Pa. She died Nov. 24, 1948.
Mother’s Day has become one of the most profitable U.S. holidays, with annual spending steadily growing since 2006. This year, consumers are expected to spend a record high of $23.6 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. Antolini said Jarvis would be enraged at that.