Long before florists and card companies took center stage on Mother’s Day, the holiday wasn’t about gift giving or really even about moms. In fact, according to the history of Mother’s Day, the holiday’s founder actively fought to have it stricken from the U.S. calendar forever after consumerism took over.
While its roots can be found in ancient Greek and Roman times, the origins of Mother’s Day as it’s known today in the U.S. date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries and stemmed from some pretty dark times, according to History. Here are five surprising truths that you may not know about the holiday.
1. Mother’s Day probably started as a way for mourning women to honor fallen soldiers. “Mother’s Friendship Day” was organized in 1868 to allow mothers of Union and Confederate soldiers to get together.
2. The earliest iterations of Mother’s Day in the U.S. were organized for several reasons, but celebrating mothers wasn’t among them. U.S. women’s groups in the late 1800s came together in West Virginia to tackle everything from infant mortality to disease and milk contamination. In 1870, a composer by the name of Julia Ward Howe issued a “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” urging women to become politically active and to promote peace following the U.S. Civil War, according to National Geographic.
3. The official holiday’s founder Anna Jarvis boycotted the holiday. Jarvis, a native of West Virginia, organized the first Mother’s Day celebration at a church in Grafton, West Virginia, in 1908 in memory of her own mother, who died three years earlier. She successfully campaigned to have the day adopted nationally, but by the time of her death in 1948, Jarvis had spent most of her personal wealth fighting the holiday she helped conceive. She apparently found the commercialization of Mother’s Day deplorable and sued groups that used the name “Mother’s Day” name to promote consumerism. She even lobbied the government to remove it from the U.S.’ official calendar.
4. Jarvis never married and was childless. In many ways, Jarvis’ unwavering devotion to preserving what she thought was the true origin of the holiday was more about her ego than anything else. “Everything she signed was Anna Jarvis, Founder of Mother's Day. It was who she was," historian Katharine Antolini, author of “Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Struggle for Control of Mother's Day,” told National Geographic.
5. The carnation was the original Mother’s Day flower. Some groups sold carnations every year to fundraise for their causes, something Jarvis vehemently opposed.