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Anna Jarvis: The Woman Who Founded Mother’s Day in US and Fought its Commercialisation

School teacher Anna Jarvis began her mission of establishing an eternal tribute to her mother following her death in 1905. On the second death anniversary of her mother, Anna Jarvis bought 500 white carnations for a memorial service she organized in her West Virginia hometown

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Updated:May 12, 2019, 7:26 AM IST
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Anna Jarvis: The Woman Who Founded Mother’s Day in US and Fought its Commercialisation
File photo of Anna Jarvis.
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Happy Mother’s Day 2019 | Mother’s Day is being celebrated on May 12 in India and several other countries this year. Mother’s Day entails people doing different things to make mums feel special on Mother’s Day. But did you know that the woman whose efforts at the start of the 20th century led the United States Congress to declare the second Sunday of May as an official holiday to mark Mother’s Day became so disgruntled with its commercialization that she ended up in a sanitarium?

School teacher Anna Jarvis began her mission of establishing an eternal tribute to her mother following her death in 1905. On the second death anniversary of her mother, Anna Jarvis bought 500 white carnations for a memorial service she organized in her West Virginia hometown. She distributed her mother’s favourite flower among each mother in her church's congregation.

Soon, she began to “lobby for a national holiday in her mother's honour, browbeating politicians, pestering bureaucrats, generally making a nuisance of herself,” according to a Chicago Tribune article.

Her efforts led to the Congress passing a joint resolution, signed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914, marking the second Sunday in May as a national holiday.

Jarvis wasn’t done yet, however. She quit her job and spent time writing to heads of foreign countries to follow the example of the United States and establish the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day.

But as Mother's Day turned into a “crassly commercial bonanza for florists, card shops and candy-makers,” Anna Jarvis began railing against the “vile floral profiteers making a killing off her mother's beloved carnations.”

"WHAT WILL YOU DO to rout charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and other termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations?" she wrote in one of her press releases.

Jarvis was enraged when, in 1930s, the United States postmaster announced a Mother's Day commemorative stamp bearing artist James McNeill Whistler’s portrait tribute to his beloved mother. She sought an audience with President Franklin Roosevelt and succeeded in having "Mother's Day" removed from the issues.

“About the same time, she stormed into a meeting of the American War Mothers and tried to break up their sale of white carnations for Mother's Day. The police had to drag her out, kicking and screaming,” according to Chicago Tribune.

Soon, Jarvis was wandering the streets, “showing strangers old photos of her taken at the time of her mother's death.”

She shut herself away in her dilapidated house before eventually being sent to a sanitarium. She died at 84, “never having been told where the money was coming from."
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