Mother’s Day, aka Mothering Sunday

Nothing Says "Mom" Better than Whistler's Mother. What Was the Post Office Thinking?

HappyMothersDay-main_FullOn This Date in History: I had always assumed that Mother’s Day was invented by some card company like Hallmark. I was wrong. It was just hijacked by the entreprenuerial spirit of America! There’s all sorts of stuff about it going back to the early church and then going on through the 17th century in Europe when it was still associated with the church. It had been to celebrate Mother Mary, then the Mother Church with Mothering Sunday. But when the folks came across the pond to America, the colonists were too busy working to do such things and it died out.

Mother of Mother's Day

Mother of Mother's Day

Then along came the Civil War and a woman named Anne Marie Reeves Jarvis. She started “Mother’s Friendship Day” as a way to improve sanitation in 1858. During the Civil War she continued the practice by organizing women on both sides to try and improve the nasty situation. Afterward, she organized Mother’s Friendship Clubs to teach women the basics of nursing and sanitation. She also took the opportunity to bring reconciliation to the nation following the war. Anne died in 1905 and her daughter Anna missed her greatly. Anna felt that children didn’t appreciate their mother’s enough while they were alive. So, in 1907, she decided to start a day to honor mothers. She began a letter writing campaign to ministers and such and in 1908, the first Mother’s Day service was held in honor of Anne Marie Jarvis in Grafton, West Virginia, where she went to church for 20 years and also at her church in Philadelphia, the city where Anne died.

Wilson With Wife and Daughters Mother's Day 1912

It caught on and in 1912 The International Mother’s Day Association had come into being and on this date in 1914, a Presidential Proclamation by Woodrow Wilson designated the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day. But Anna Jarvis’ happiness didn’t last long. In just a few short years, people started giving cards and flowers and presents and all sorts of things. It became more secular than what Miss Jarivs had envisioned. Commericialization had taken over and it continues today as Mother’s Day is one of the most financially successful days on the calendar. Anna Jarvis died as a cranky old woman who fought to oppose Mother’s Day. I guess she created a monster like Frankenstein. But not as much as the Postal Service.

President Roosevelt's Original Mother's Day Stamp Design

Yes indeed…in 1934 the US Postal Service decided to get into the act and make a stamp to commemorate Mother’s Day. And what did they pick to commemorate the day to honor the wholesome beauty of Motherhood? The portrait of James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s mother! You look at it and try to figure out what they were thinking. It sure wasn’t “Happy Mother’s Day.” As it turns out, the inspiration came from none other than President Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR had been presented the idea by Mrs. H. H. McCluer of Kansas City who was the past president of a group called the American War Mothers. President Roosevelt had been devoted to his own mother so he heartily accepted the proposal and sent a sketch of the stamp that he envisioned to Postmaster General James A. Farley. Farley made a few modifications and the stamp was issued on May 2, 1934.

Original Mother's Day Stamp 1934

As for Hallmark, it is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. Joyce C. Hall was given the name “Joyce” because he had the misfortune of being born in David, Nebraska on the day that a Methodist bishop named Isaac W. Joyce was in town and his parents must have been inspired. As a teenager, J.C. Hall went into business with his two older brothers selling picture postcards. In 1910 at the age of 18, he dropped out of school and went to Kansas City and started selling postcards to drugstores, gift shops and bookstores before opening a specialty shop.

Editorial Cartoon Made Fun of FDR's Stamp. Bet that Newspaper Received a lot of hatemail using the special stamp

But, in a case of misfortune turning to a catalyst for success, a fire swept through the store. The brothers then got a loan and decided to purchase an engraving firm that they had done business with in the past. While Mother’s Day was just getting started around that time and no doubt did Hallmark participate in the commercialization of the “Holy Day” invented by Anna Jarvis, the company was not built on the hallowed day’s back. Instead, the Hallmark company history says that the Hall brothers originally gained success with Christmas and Valentine’s cards. But, let’s think about this for a moment. All about the same time: Anna Jarvis comes up with Mother’s Day; President Wilson recognizes it nationally; a fire destroys the Hall brother’s store and they start making specialty cards; Mother’s Day becomes so commercialized that Anna Jarvis works to oppose the very thing she created. I think that perhaps Miss Jarvis did not buy any Hallmark cards.

7 Responses

  1. The woman who founded the holiday spent the last 25 years of her life campaigning against it.

    By the 1920s, Anna Jarvis had become soured by the commercialization of the holiday. She incorporated herself as the Mother’s Day International Association, trademarked the phrases “second Sunday in May” and “Mother’s Day”, and was once arrested for disturbing the peace. She and her sister Ellsinore spent their family inheritance campaigning against what the holiday had become. Both died in poverty. According to her New York Times obituary, Jarvis became embittered because too many people sent their mothers a printed greeting card.

  2. If you still want to give it a bad name, the Nazis pushed the idea heavily and made it an official holiday in Germany.

  3. It’s weird that America, a far more christian country than much of Europe, doesn’t celebrate its mother’s day on mothering sunday.

  4. That is one ugly and depressing stamp. I still have some full sheets from my Dad’s stamp collection, and I know there are some as early as 1931 and some three-centers. I’m going to dig in and see if I just happen to have some of the real thing!

    I just learned about Mothering Sunday a year or so ago. I have a friend in England who had to explain the differences to me – not to mention the fact that it comes earlier. I think she said it was April 2 this year.

    The best part is Anna Jarvis turning against her own holiday, though. Isn’t it just the case – people nag and nag for something and then when they get it – pffffttt!

    Thanks for the great history! Hope your day was great!

  5. Isn’t that the way? Mother’s Day falls victim to crass commercialization just like all the other holidays! Well, it seems to be what we do with all of the holidays in America, I suppose. Our entrepreneurial spirit can overcome even the most well-intentioned holidays! Still, our mothers get the recognition they deserve even if Hallmark et al manage to pick up a little loose change in the process. At least Mom has her day and bunch of pretty cards to boot!

    You never hear anyone lamenting the commercialization of Father’s Day though! What’s up with that?? I guess we Dads don’t mind just so we get a little recognition too.

    Nice to hear from you again, Mr. Symon.

  6. Now Father’s Day…I definitely smell Hallmark on that one…and certainly Grandparents Day. Thought for sure you’d say that you’d seen this post in the past.

  7. I recognized it but didn’t want to spoil it for those to whom it was new!

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