Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mothers Day, was born in Webster, Taylor County, West Virginia, on May 1, 1864, the ninth of eleven children born to Ann Marie and Granville Jarvis. The family moved to Grafton, four miles south of Webster, when Anna was a year and a half old. It was here that the future founder of Mothers Day spent her childhood, receiving her early education in public schools. In 1881, she enrolled at the Augusta Female Academy in Staunton, Virginia, now Mary Baldwin College. Upon finishing, Miss Jarvis returned to Grafton where she taught school for seven years. Her full name is Anna Reeves Jarvis.
From childhood, Anna Jarvis often heard her mother say that she hoped that someone would one day establish a memorial for all mothers, living and dead. One incident in particular was a driving force in keeping this wish alive. The incident occurred during a class prayer given by Mrs. Jarvis in the presence of her daughter, Anna, then age twelve, at the conclusion of Mrs. Jarvis’ lesson on “Mothers of the Bible.” She closed the lesson with the prayer “I hope that someone, sometime will found a memorial mothers day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.” Anna never forgot that prayer, and at her mother’s graveside service, Anna’s brother Claude heard her recall that prayer and say “…by the grace of God, you shall have that Mothers Day.”
After the death of her father in 1902, Anna Jarvis along with her mother and sister Lillie, had moved to Philadelphia to reside with her brother Claude. After her mother’s death on May 9, 1905, Miss Jarvis began an intense campaign of fulfill the wish of her mother.
On the first anniversary of her mother’s death, May 9, 1906, Miss Jarvis, with some friends, reviewed the outstanding accomplishments of her mother brought about through her Mothers Day Work Clubs that were established prior to the Civil War. After this, Miss Jarvis wrote to Mr. Norman F. Kendall of Grafton asking him to organize a Mothers Day Memorial Committee from her mother’s coworkers at the Andrews Church and asked them to pass a resolution favoring the founding of Mothers Day. Mr. Kendall carried out this request, and the resolution was passed. On the second anniversary of Mrs. Jarvis’ death, May 12, 1907, a memorial service was held for her at the Andrews church.
Miss Jarvis employed every means available to her to achieve her goal of establishing the observance of Mothers Day nationally. She wrote hundreds of letters to legislators, executives, and businessmen on both state and national levels. She was a fluent speaker and passed up no opportunity to promote her project. Most of her appeals fell on deaf ears. Her first real break came from her appeal to the great merchant and philanthropist, John Wanamaker of Philadelphia. With his influence and support, the movement gained momentum. On May 10, 1908, the third anniversary of Mrs. Jarvis’ death, fully-prepared programs were held at the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton and in Philadelphia, launching the observance of a general memorial day for all mothers.
The Grafton service was planned and prepared by Miss Jarvis She sent a telegram, read by Mr. L. L. Loar, which defined the purpose of the day:
…To revive the dormant filial love and gratitude we owe to those who gave us birth. To be a home tie for the absent. To obliterate family estrangement. To create a bond of brotherhood through the wearing of a floral badge. To make us better children by getting us closer to the hearts of our good mothers. To brighten the lives of good mothers. To have them know we appreciate them, though we do not show it as often as we ought…
Mothers Day is to remind us of our duty before it is too late.
This day is intended that we may make new resolutions for a more active thought to our dear mothers. By words, gifts, acts of affection, and in every way possible, give her pleasure, and make her heart glad every day, and constantly keep in memory Mothers Day; when you made this resolution, lest you forget and neglect your dear mother, if absent from home write her often, tell her of a few of her noble good qualities and how you love her.
“A mother’s love is new every day.”
God bless our faithful good mothers.
The Honorable Ira E. Robinson, a member of the congregation, offered a resolution asking that the Andrews Church set aside the second Sunday of May each year as Mothers Day. The resolution was immediately adopted and from then on the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church became the Mother Church of Mothers Day.
Mr. John Wanamaker presided over the Mothers Day service held in the Wanamaker Store Auditorium in Philadelphia in the afternoon of May 10, 1908. The auditorium had a capacity of 5,000, but over 15,000 sought entrance. Miss Jarvis spoke eloquently for an hour and ten minutes. It was truly a great occasion for her and her friends.
An official Mothers Day Committee was selected and sanctioned by Miss Jarvis. The members were: Mr. John Wanamaker, Mr. H. J. Heinz, Claude S. Jarvis, Anna Jarvis, and Norman F. Kendall, authorized Mothers Day historian. The committee mapped out future plans for extending the Mothers Day institution on an international scale.
The adoption of Mothers Day spread more rapidly than even Miss Jarvis expected. In 1909, forty-five states, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Canada and Mexico observed the day by appropriate services and the wearing of white and red carnations. She remarked “where it will end must be left for the future to tell. That it will girdle the globe seems now certain.”
The first Mothers Day proclamation was issued by Governor William E. Glasscock of West Virginia on April 26, 1910. In May 1914 Representative Heflin of Alabama and Senator Sheppard of Texas introduced a joint resolution, at the request of Miss Jarvis, naming the second Sunday in May as Mothers Day, and the resolution was passed in both Houses. President Woodrow Wilson approved it, and William Jennings Bryan, Secretary of State, proclaimed it. In the President’s proclamation which followed, he ordered that the flag be displayed on all government buildings in the U.S. and foreign possessions. Later Mr. Heflin, co-author of the resolution said: “The flag was never used in a more beautiful and sacred cause than when flying above that tender, gentle army, the mothers of America.”
Miss Jarvis spent many years and much of her fortune promoting the Mothers Day movement, however in her later years, she was confronted with a problem that required as much or more time and effort as the establishment of Mothers Day. This was her attempt to thwart commercialization of the day, or otherwise exploiting it for extraneous purposes. She did not succeed in preventing such an outcome.
Miss Jarvis spent her later years caring for her invalid sister, Lillie, and attending flowers on her mother’s grave. After her sister’s death in 1944, Miss Jarvis was very much alone and because of her declining health, her many friends placed her in the Marshall Square Sanitarium in West Chester, Pennsylvania. It was here that Anna Jarvis died on November 24, 1948 at the age of 84. She is interred beside her mother in West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia. On the day of her burial, she was remembered in Grafton when the bell on the Andrews Church was tolled eighty-four times in her honor.