Jarvis, Anna M. (1864–1948)

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Jarvis, Anna M. (1864–1948)

American founder of Mother's Day . Born in Grafton, West Virginia, on May 1, 1864; died in West Chester, Pennsylvania, on November 24, 1948; attended Mary Baldwin College; never married; no children.

Due to the efforts of Anna M. Jarvis, the second Sunday in May is celebrated across much of the world as Mother's Day. Born to a prosperous family in Grafton, Virginia, in 1864, Jarvis was an attractive, well-educated woman who never married. Following her mother's death in 1905, she began a one-woman campaign to set aside one day a year to honor mothers everywhere. Although it was not an original idea (Julia Ward Howe had suggested it as early as 1872), Jarvis had the commitment to turn it into a reality. Indeed, it became an obsession, occupying her entire life and depleting her modest inheritance.

On May 10, 1908, in tribute to her mother who had died on that date three years earlier, Jarvis organized simultaneous church services honoring mothers in her hometown of Grafton and in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she then lived. She also initiated the custom of wearing carnations on that day. She then embarked on a massive letter-writing campaign to state officials, legislators, and congressional representatives, which resulted in several states proclaiming official Mother's Day celebrations. In May 1914, a bill was introduced in Congress to set aside the second Sunday in May as a national Mother's Day. The legislation passed unanimously and was authorized by President Woodrow Wilson the following year. Jarvis then incorporated herself as the Mother's Day International Association and continued her efforts to extend the holiday internationally. Her correspondence grew to such a volume that she had to purchase the house next door for storage.

Jarvis deplored the commercialization of Mother's Day by florists, card companies, and candy makers and spent her later years in an effort to maintain the purity of the holiday. Although she did succeed in stopping a commercial celebration in New York City by threatening a law suit, her attempts were largely met with indifference. She spent her final years in ill health and died in a sanitarium in West Chester, Pennsylvania, in 1948. Later, the Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, where the holiday began, memorialized Jarvis and her mother in two stained-glass windows. A small museum there also sells Mother's Day cards the year round, a practice that Jarvis would likely frown upon.


Felton, Bruce, and Mark Fowler. Famous Americans You Never Knew Existed. NY: Stein and Day, 1980.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1993.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Jarvis, Anna M. (1864–1948)

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