Do you know Anna Jarvis? A good name to think about as we enter May, since she was the one who got Mother’s Day started. Her idea was simple: Wear a carnation. That was the favorite flower of her own mother, at whose grave in 1905 she is said to have sworn that she would make honoring all mothers her own lifetime project.
And she did: Two years later, she distributed 500 carnations to women in her late mother’s Methodist Episcopal Church in West Virginia, and on May 10 of the very next year, the same church held the first known Sunday service specifically honoring mothers.
Anna herself lived in Philadelphia then, and her idea resonated with that city’s best-known merchant, John Wanamaker. He joined her in the effort, and Mother’s Day became our national holiday when President Woodrow Wilson signed a joint Congressional resolution in 1914. But very soon, Anna saw a worm sneak into the flower: Her sweet idea – wear pink carnations to honor living mothers, white ones in memory of those deceased – became an unintended boon for florists, which she had never foreseen. “I wanted this to be a day of sentiment, not profit,” she said. She also bristled at the growing use of greeting cards for Mother’s Day: to her, they were “a poor excuse for the letters you are too lazy to write!”
Sadly for Anna, she made no friends in her fight against Mother’s Day commercialization, and she fought with many, including Eleanor Roosevelt, about how her pure idea was being tarnished. When she died in 1948 – childless, bitter, blind and poverty-stricken – legend says her funeral was financed by a grateful florists’ association!
My sister Ruth was born two days before the Jarvis holiday in 1939, but our mother always considered her appearance close enough to count as a special Mother’s Day gift. Also especially rejoicing was my mother’s youngest sister, because the family’s newest baby had arrived on her very own birthday.
If you wait long enough, and your family is large enough, you too may someday rejoice in a special double birthday somewhere along the line. Our family waited years for its second pair: then Tommy, my sister’s grandson, turned 8 on the same day my own great-grandson Andrew was born!
Please join me in wearing a second carnation on May 10 this year, the exact date of the very first Mother’s Day service – in memory of beleaguered yet still beloved Anna Jarvis.