National Trust for Historic Preservation

Mother’s Day

Mother's Day before 1914

The most widely promoted history of Mother's Day in the U.S. attributes it's establishment to Ana Jarvis, from Philadelphia, who in 1907 began a campaign to establish a national Mother's Day. Jarvis persuaded her mother's church in Grafton, West Virginia to celebrate Mother's Day on the second anniversary of her mother's death, the 2nd Sunday of May.

The next year Mother's Day was also celebrated in Philadelphia. Jarvis and others began a letter-writing campaign to ministers, businessmen, and politicians in their quest to establish a national Mother's Day.  This poster advertises the annual Mother's Day in Pennsylvania.

However, according to the Katharine Antolini, author of Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Struggle for Control of Mother's Day, there were at least two other early proponents of Mother's Day.  Julia Ward Howe proposed a "Mothers' Peace Day" as a way to "promote global unity after the horrors of the American Civil War and Europe’s Franco-Prussian War."  These early observances were primarily popular with peace activists.  And Frank Hering, of the University of Notre Dame, proposed the idea of a national Mother's Day as early as 1904.  Hering urged an Indianapolis gathering of the Fraternal Order of Eagles to support “setting aside of one day in the year as a nationwide memorial to the memory of Mothers and motherhood."  Several local branches of the FOE followed.  Many people consider Hering the 'Father' of Mother's Day, much to Ana Jarvis' chagrin.

May 9, 1914 President Wilson declares national Mother's Day

President Woodrow Wilson, on Friday, May 9, 1914, made the official announcement proclaiming Mother's Day a national observance to be held each year on the 2nd Sunday of May, thereby making May 10, 1914 the first national Mother’s Day.

The observance was to take the form of displaying the American Flag on government buildings and private homes "as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country."

Mother's Day was almost universally observed before 1914, as most states had observances, but the date sometimes varied.  Traditionally, vendors sold carnations for churchgoers to wear, red for those whose mother was living and white for those whose mother had died.

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