carnation

Carnations are symbols of Mother's Day.

Mother’s Day is now behind us, but while you were celebrating your mom and how awesome she is, did you ever consider who we have to thank for the special day? The answer is: a Philadelphian woman, Anna Jarvis. Jarvis coordinated the celebration of the first Mother’s Day in 1908. Congress made it an official holiday in 1914.

Jarvis, being a woman of the Victorian Era, knew just how much mothers had to do, and how little appreciation they got for raising the kids (in an era before birth control, mind), keeping the house, and maintaining her own beauty and virtue so that she was a credit to her family.

“The purpose of Mother’s Day,” Jarvis told The Philadelphia Inquirer in May 1913, “is to make men and women realize their individual responsibility to right the wrongs of motherhood and childhood, not only in the home but also in the industrial world, and in the name of ‘mother’ to inspire men to carry forward the work for the home, which would mean not only its uplift, but would deepen their brotherhood toward each other.”

Jarvis spent the rest of her life fighting the growing commercialization of the holiday that was so dear to her heart. She disapproved strongly of store-bough cards, gifts, flowers, and other consumerist tokens of maternal esteem. During her lifetime, she saw candy shops’ sales skyrocketing during the holiday, and carnations becoming so dear that they sold for a dollar per blossom (very expensive in early 20th-century currency) and bandits breaking into greenhouses to steal flowers for sale.

In her heart, Jarvis intended Mother’s Day to be a pure celebration of the most important women in our lives. Her dedication to the cause was inspired by her own devotion to her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, who died in 1905 after a life championing appreciation of mothers, including a Mothers’ Friendship Day. Mother and daughter loved each other fiercely. The carnation came to be a symbol of Mother’s Day because it was Jarvis’ mother’s favorite flower.

The United States is, of course, not the only country to commemorate moms. The fourth Sunday of Lent in the U.K. is declared “Mothering Sunday,” and “fête des mères” in France happens on the fourth Sunday in May.

Jarvis herself is commemorated with a historical marker at the intersection of Market and Juniper Streets, called “Mother’s Day.”

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