The Mothers of Mother’s Day

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
7th May 2009

Tagged: materialism mother motherhood mothers day

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The mother was called Ann Maria Jarvis and the daughter was Anna Marie Jarvis. They are not household names today, but their lives have affected us all.

Mrs Ann Jarvis (1830-1905) was the daughter of a Methodist minister who married the son of a Baptist pastor. Throughout her life she was an energetic Christian in her church and community.

She and her husband were actively involved in building the Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. For twenty-five years she taught in the Sunday School.

She gave birth to eleven children of whom only four survived to adulthood. They died of the all too common diseases of diphtheria, scarlet fever and whooping cough. So, she organised a “Mother’s Work Group” which successfully fought the local unsanitary and unhealthy living conditions.

During the Civil War she organised the mothers group into providing relief for soldiers from both sides of the conflict. After the war she organised a “Mother’s Friendship Day” in which soldiers and neighbours from both sides were re-united.

Her ninth child was the redoubtable Anna Marie Jarvis. As a twelve year old child she heard her mother finish a Bible class on mothers in the Bible, expressing the hope “that someone, sometime will found a memorial mother’s day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.” At her mother’s death, Anna Marie remembered these words and decided by the grace of God to put them into effect.

On the second anniversary of her mother’s death in 1907, Anna commenced what she was to call “Mother’s Day”. The day was the second Sunday in May. Anna organised 500 carnations, her mother’s favourite flower, to be given out at the Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton. She invented the tradition of giving white ones to those whose mother had died and red ones for those whose mother was still living.

In the next year, 1908, the church in Grafton was only one of the churches that celebrated Mother’s Day. An activist like her mother, Anna spent the following years promoting the observation of “Mother’s Day”, until in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson declared it a national holiday.

Sadly, by the 1920’s Anna came to deep disappointment in the celebration she had initiated. She was horrified that people would profit from the day by selling flowers, chocolates and cards. Her idea was that people would spend time with their mother rather than send her a card. From the 1920’s till her impoverished death in 1948, she campaigned against the commercialisation of Mother’s Day. On one occasion she was even imprisoned protesting against Mother’s Day celebrations.

But her basic idea caught on. So that a hundred years later, around the world, most countries, like Australia, celebrate the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day - usually without knowing anything about Anna Jarvis or her remarkable mother, Ann.

It is no surprise that Mother’s Day commenced in church amongst Bible believing people. The Bible’s gospel is about relationships and the command of God is that we should honour our mothers. It is also no surprise that commercial interests have taken over the celebration of motherhood - for our society is governed by materialism.

But it is sadly ironic that the materialists who decry motherhood make their money out of Mother’s Day, while the Christian who founded Mother’s Day spent all her money opposing the materialism of the celebration she initiated.