Mother’s Day is a modern celebration honoring one’s mother, motherhood, maternal bonds and the influence of mothers in society. The origin of the celebration goes back to the Greek era. In the United States, the celebration is not related to the many celebrations of mothers and motherhood in other parts of the world. Here, Anna Jarvis, a single West Virginian woman, admired her mother so greatly that she pushed and petitioned to create a special day in her honor. Today, that day is nationally known as Mother’s Day.
Anna Jarvis was born in the tiny town of Webster to Granville E. Jarvis and Ann Jarvis in 1864. It was Ann Jarvis, devoted Sunday school teacher, social activist and mother of ten, who supported Anna’s choice to pursue higher education at the Augusta Female Seminary. Upon returning from her studies, Anna made the bittersweet decision to permanently leave the nest for a job as a bank teller in Tennessee. As Anna’s career took off, the homesickness she had come to know in college returned, weighing heavily on her heart.
Often, when Anna felt immense longing for her mother’s company, she took pen to paper and wrote many letters home. In the years to come, her method of coping would give Mother’s Day emotional resonance with sons and daughters of this period, who made similar breaks from their families. The floral industry was the first to capture the vulnerability and importance of maternal relationships in their marketing strategy. Inspired by Anna’s dedication to keep close ties with her mother, the traditional Mother’s Day gift of flowers would expand to include heartfelt cards as well.
In the wake of her mother’s passing in 1905, Anna reminisced over her mother’s dedication and love for her many children. She began to feel regret that Ann Jarvis had never had the opportunity to receive a college education, for she was “restrained by the ties of motherhood.” As Anna’s obligation to praise her mother’s sacrifice grew, she daringly voiced her upset at the American calendar patriarchy.
“Memorial Day is for Departed Fathers, Independence Day is for Patriot Fathers, Thanksgiving Day is for Pilgrim Fathers,” Jarvis stated.
She hoped Mother’s Day would become “a ritual of correction and inclusion, a recognition of all mothers alongside the fathers.”
On a serene spring day in May, 1907, Anna Jarvis commemorated the first official Mother’s Day with a church service in her family’s hometown. Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church displayed a memorial picture of Ann Jarvis, as well as a special service honoring her work there. Delighted at its positive reception, Anna embarked on a letter-writing campaign to gain the attention of newspapers, politicians and church leaders about her idea to honor all mothers. Mother’s Day of 1908 gained impressive traction with various churches and cities around the country, and florists began to promote their wares. By 1914, Mother’s Day had gained so much countrywide support, commercially and by community, that President Woodrow Wilson proudly recognized it as a national holiday, and also “as a public expression of love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”
Surprisingly, if it were not for the commercialization of Mother’s Day, it is likely that it would have faded into the background, as Children’s Day or Temperance Sunday have. Thankfully, the flower industry eagerly took charge of initial commercialization. Because Anna insisted everyone don a pinned white carnation, her mother’s favorite flower, in celebration of Mother’s Day, a rapid demand grew for white carnations on the second Sunday of May, strengthening the flower industry’s association with this special day for decades to come.
Almost simultaneously, in the winter of 1910, a young Nebraskan man by the name of Joyce Hall made the daring decision to drop out of high school. The youngest of three in a deeply spiritual and impoverished family, Hall bade farewell to his parents, and hopped on a train for Kansas City. Highly optimistic, Hall started up a specialty shop for wholesale post cards and gifts with his brother, Rollie Hall. Even a store fire could not crush their spirits. A blessing in disguise, the loss prompted the brothers to obtain a loan and purchase an engraving firm. It was this risky business decision that would catalyze the creation of the first Hallmark card. The success of initial Hallmark cards, of the Christmas and Valentine’s Day variety, would pave the way for Mother’s Day editions in the early 1920s.
Currently, Hallmark Cards, a privately owned company, is a $3.7 billion business. Still based in Kansas City, Hallmark has grown to open 30,000 retail stores across the country. Led by members of the founding family, CEO Donald J. Hall, Jr. and President David E. Hall, the legacy of Joyce Hall thrives.
In a memoir, Joyce Hall attributed his success to preferring not to focus on it, ironically.
“If a man goes into business with only the idea of making a lot of money, chances are he won’t. But, if he puts service and quality first, the money will take care of itself,” he said.
An additional passion to crafting cards–philanthropy–allowed Hall to help others. The Hall Family Foundation, a private philanthropic organization founded in 1943, continues running today, supporting programs with noble community causes in the Greater Kansas City area.
In just one decade, Anna Jarvis’ original vision for a Mother’s Day and Joyce Hall’s entrepreneurial spirit worked in harmony to grow the holiday’s popularity. Today, Mother’s Day is still celebrated by honoring mothers as Anna Jarvis intended, and it also includes the generous giving of gifts. In the United States, an estimated 122 million phone calls will be made to moms this Mother’s Day, as well as 133 million cards exchanged. Individual consumers will spend more than $173 and purchase nearly 2.8 Mother’s Day cards for mothers, aunts, nieces, daughters, and grandmothers alike.
To Anna, establishing a day dedicated to mothers was an opportunity for children to show gratitude for their love and sacrifices. With the help of nationalization and commercialization, courtesy of Hallmark, Mother’s Day is marked on our calendars this May 8th, 102 years later.