Mother’s Day

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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.

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About Author

Harriet P. Gross is a personal columnist, free-lance writer and editor, and book reviewer. She holds a B.A. in creative writing and secondary education from the University of Pittsburgh (her home town) and an M.A. in humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas. She has taught freshman rhetoric, advanced composition, and personal essay writing at UT-D, and writing and poetry in Brookhaven Community College’s adult program. For UT-D and the National Federation of Press Women, she has conducted workshops in English grammar and word usage. Harriet has done additional graduate study in journalism, linguistics and semantics, philosophy, and social work, and has attended the Breadloaf Writers Conference in Middlebury, Vermont, and the University of North Texas’ Mayborn Writers Conference.  In a journalism career of more than a half-century, Harriet has received a Dallas Press Club Katie Award for personal columns, and awards for columns and feature stories from Suburban Newspapers of America, National Federation of Press Women, Press Women of Texas, and Illinois Woman’s Press Association. The American Jewish Press Association has honored her with its Simon Rockower Award for personal commentary, recognizing her weekly “In My Mind’s I” column in the Texas Jewish Post. A two-time breast cancer survivor, she helped organize Dallas Jewish Family Service’s first breast cancer support group and volunteered in Hadassah’s “Check It Out” prevention program. She is also a regular story-telling volunteer at The Legacy/Preston Hollow senior residence. Harriet’s other affiliations include the Society of Professional Journalists (Sigma Delta Chi), National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Phi Sigma Sigma Sorority Alumnae, White Rock Rotary Club, and Dallas Area Mensa. She is listed in six Who’s Who publications: Who's Who in America -- in Religion -- in the South and Southwest -- in American Education -- in the World -- and the Who's Who of American Women. She pioneered the country's first community newspaper "action line" column in the mid-1960s, when she lived and worked in South Suburban Chicago, and before moving to Dallas in 1980, was named the Illinois Woman’s Press Association Woman of Achievement, an honor she also received from Press Women of Texas in 2011.  Park Forest, Illinois, has recognized her community service by honoring her as Citizen of the Year and elected her to its Hall of Fame.

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