Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother’s Day and its Founder – Anna Jarvis

I recently photographed Anna Jarvis’ (1864 - 1948) grave marker in West Laurel Hill Cemetery, in Bala Cynwyd, PA (a suburb of Philadelphia). Jarvis is the mother, the founder, of Mother’s Day in the United States. I wondered if people left Hallmark cards and boxes of Whitman’s chocolates at her grave every Mothers’ Day (the second Sunday in May, here in the U.S.). Turns out that such a deed would be a great insult to the woman!  Keep reading to find out why.

Mother's Day, according to Wikipedia, is “a modern celebration honoring one's own mother, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society. The American holiday of Mother's Day was first celebrated in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her own mother in Grafton, West Virginia."
Her campaign to make Mother's Day a recognized holiday in the United States began in 1905, the year her own mother, Ann Jarvis, died. "Anna’s mission was to honor her mother by continuing work she started and to set aside a day to honor mothers…, 'the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world.' Anna's mother, Ann Jarvis, was a peace activist who cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the Civil War….” (ref).

Due to Jarvis’ campaigning, several states officially recognized Mother's Day, the first in 1910 being Jarvis’ home state of West Virginia. In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation to institute Mother’s Day as a national holiday.

FTD gift assortment for Mother's Day (ref)

So, why would Jarvis be insulted to have FTD deliver flowers to her grave on Mother’s Day? Or for folks to leave a Whitman’s Sampler and a Mother’s Day card? Well, in 1923, just nine years after the first official Mother's Day, commercialization of the holiday became so rampant that Jarvis herself “became a major opponent of what the holiday had become and spent all her inheritance and the rest of her life fighting what she saw as an abuse of the celebration,” says Louisa Taylor in the 2008 Canwest News Service article "Mother's Day creator likely 'spinning in her grave'".

Jarvis' efforts did little good to thwart the commercialization as Mother's Day became (and continues to be) one of the most commercially successful of all U.S. holidays. Who profits? Greeting card companies, flower delivery companies, and candy companies, to name a few.

Hallmark greeting card (ref)

"A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment."
—Anna Jarvis, the Founder of Mother's Day (ref)

Whitman's (Russel Stover) chocolates (ref)

Jarvis memorial grave marker, West Laurel Hill
So how is it that Jarvis was born in West Virginia and is buried outside Philadelphia? Anna Jarvis never married and had no children – ironic, perhaps, for the founder of Mother’s Day. She spent her declining years in West Chester, PA, where her sister lived. The grave marker in West Laurel Hill Cemetery marks the family plot, in which Anna, along with her mother, sister, and brother are buried.

To give you an idea of the size of the Jarvis monument here at West Laurel Hill Cemetery, above is a photo of my friend Robert Reinhardt photographing it. I must thank Robert for pointing it out to me last year. We were at the cemetery photographing the grave stones when he brought it to my attention. As many times as I have been to West Laurel Hill, I never knew of the existence of the Jarvis grave marker. Note also the "Daughters of the American Revolution" plaque at its base.