Ann Reeves Jarvis once closed her Sunday school lesson with a prayer that someone would one day found a memorial day to commemorate mothers for “the matchless service she renders to humanity.”
Her daughter Anna Jarvis, then 12 years old, remembered that prayer for the rest of her life. Two years after her mother’s death, Anna Jarvis began to lobby for a national holiday in her honor. She wrote thousands of letters to people of influence, including Teddy Roosevelt and Mark Twain, and her campaign finally succeeded when Mother’s Day was officially established in 1914. That is when things got complicated: the sense of ownership she felt over the holiday led her to fight tooth and nail against anyone who would corrupt her vision.
This included the floral and greeting-card industries (at one point she scrapped the white carnation as the holiday’s official emblem to “do away with profiteering tradesmen”), but also charities such as the Golden Rule Foundation, a fund for needy mothers and children that she accused of commercializing Mother’s Day to line its pockets. Jarvis even rallied against the US Postal Service when it issued a commemorative Mother’s Day stamp. She lived as a recluse for the last decade of her life, and was eventually committed to a sanitarium where she died alone and penniless.
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