The origin of Mother’s Day as we know it took place in the early 1900s. After her mother died in 1905, Miss Anna Jarvis wished to memorialize her life and started campaigning for a national day to honor all mothers.
The younger Anna Jarvis was only twelve years old in 1878 when she listened to her mother teach a Sunday school lesson on mothers in the Bible. “I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother’s day,” the senior Jarvis said. “There are many days for men, but none for mothers.”
Her mother, known as “Mother Jarvis,” was a young Appalachian homemaker and lifelong activist who had organized “Mother’s Work Days” to save the lives of those dying from polluted water. During the Civil War, Mother Jarvis had also organized women’s brigades, encouraging women to help without regard for which side their men had chosen.
After the death of Mother Jarvis, Anna bombarded public figures and various civic organizations with telegrams, letters, and in-person discussions. She addressed groups large and small. At her own expense, she wrote, printed, and distributed booklets extolling her idea. Her efforts came to the attention of the mayor of Philadelphia, who proclaimed a local Mother’s Day. From the local level she went on to Washington, D.C. The politicians there knew a good thing when they saw it and were quick to lend verbal support.
By May of 1907, a Mother’s Day service had been arranged on the second Sunday in May at the Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia, where Mother Jarvis had taught. That same day a special service was held at the Wannamaker Auditorium in Philadelphia, which could seat no more than a third of the 15,000 people who showed up.
The custom spread to churches in 45 states and in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Mexico and Canada. The Governor of West Virginia proclaimed Mother’s Day in 1912; Pennsylvania’s governor in 1913 did the same. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill designating the second Sunday in May as a legal holiday to be called “Mother’s Day”—dedicated “to the best mother in the world, your mother.”