Inventor of Mother's Day Wants You To Stop Wasting Money

Mothers day ducks

Americans are planning to spend an average of $139 on Mother's Day gifts this year. That's a stunning $16 billion national spending frenzy that would have horrified Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother's Day.

Anna lobbied for the creation of the holiday as a tribute to her mother and mothers everywhere. Her efforts paid off in 1914 when President Wilson officially designated the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day.

Later on, after seeing her holiday cheapened by rampant commercialism, Anna denounced her own holiday. She wrote:

I wanted [Mother's Day] to be a day of sentiment, not profit.

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.

What will you do to route charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and other termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations? Source:

Ironically, Anna would spend the rest of her life fighting against the holiday she created. She tried claiming copyright over Mother's Day and started protesting so vigorously against it that she once got arrested for disturbing the peace.

The poignantly surreal ending to Anna's story sounds like something straight out of a John Irving novel:

In 1943, Jarvis was 79 years old and broke. Partially deaf and blind, she was transported to a sanitarium in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

For reasons unrecorded, the Florists' Exchange, a trade association, picked up some of her bills, unbeknownst to her. And even after she told a reporter she was sorry she ever started the whole thing, she received thousands of Mother's Day cards each May until she died, in 1948. Source: Smithsonian.

The next time you are tempted to cheapen Mother's Day with an expensive, guilt-assuaging gift, consider doing something more thoughtful instead, like making your own Mother's Day card or cooking her a special meal. That's what Anna (and your mother) would've wanted.


Mother's Day card


Senator Teller: "Mother's Day is Absolutely Absurd!"

If you are still not convinced by how artificial Mother's Day is, just take a look at this heated Senate debate over the establishment of Mother's Day:

Senator John Kean (R-NJ) immediately moved to amend the bill by striking everything after "Resolved" and substituting the Fifth Commandment: "Honor thy father and thy mother."

Senator Jacob Gallinger (R-NH) judged the very idea of Mother’s Day to be an insult, as though his memory of his late mother "could only be kept green by some outward demonstration on Sunday, May 10."

"There are some thoughts that are so great and so sacred that they are belittled by movements of this character," lectured Senator Charles Fulton (R-Oregon).

Senator Henry Moore Teller (D-Colorado) scorned the resolution as "puerile," "absolutely absurd," and "trifling." He announced, "Every day with me is a mother’s day." Source: Lew Rockwell.

Well said Mr. Teller. You get the gold star for the day.

Additional Sources:

Mother's Day Expected to be Big Green Day

The Fight to Copyright Mother's Day

Anna Jarvis and Mother's Day

Mother's Day: Of Impassioned Origins

Photo by Matt McGee and Nina Hale.

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Guest's picture

We have to stop making Mother's Day or Father's Day to be a big marketing fiasco and be home an enjoy our families. Starting with Thanksgiving, every holiday seem to be an excuse to shop shop and shop.

Guest's picture

Someone needs to do their homework and discover the true meaning and founder of Mother's Day. Anna Jarvis merely painted an acceptable, Hallmark Card version that left out the peace movement.

Mother's Day Proclamation by Julia Ward Howe (1870)

Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly:
"We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: "Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.


As a mother of two sons stationed in Kuwait this Mother's Day, I appreciate the flowers and candy but all I really want is for them to put down their guns and walk away from war.

Will Chen's picture

Thanks for sharing that with us TechnoHippie.  I hope your Mother's Day wish comes true and you get to see the safe return of your sons as soon as possilbe!

I apologize for giving the impression that Anna Jarvis was the only person responsible for Mother's Day.  Many articles I read during my research describe her as either the inventor or founder of Mother's Day. (e.g. BBC)

But perhaps the more precise description for Anna Jarvis is, as you pointed out, not necessarily the inventor, but rather someone who championed the cause and got it enough public attention in the end to get the holiday officially instituted.

There's a pretty cool connection between Anna and Howe, if this Wikipedia article is accurate:

Howe failed in her attempt to get formal recognition of a Mother's Day for Peace. Her idea was influenced by Anna Reeve Jarvis[citation needed], a young West Virginia homemaker who, starting in 1858, had attempted to improve sanitation through what she called Mothers' Work Days. She organized women throughout the Civil War to work for better sanitary conditions for both sides, and in 1868 she began work to reconcile Union and Confederate neighbors.

In parts of the United States it is customary to plant tomatoes outdoors after mother's day (and not before.)

When Jarvis died, her daughter, named Anna Jarvis, started the crusade to found a memorial day for women.


Jessica Okon's picture

As someone who has lost her mom, I just want to say commerical or not, STILL call you mom, show her some love-tomorrow and every day.  I would do ANYTHING to be able to give my mom a corny card, to take her to brunch, just to have a day with her.

Will Chen's picture

"I just want to say commerical or not, STILL call you mom, show her some love-tomorrow and every day."

Well said Jessica.  I think the key is to be considerate of your parents and call them as often as possible.

I'm lucky to have my parents with me, though I can be a bit ungrateful at times. 

Guest's picture
Nathan Cary

The fact of Mothers Day is a set-up for expectations. Mother expects special treatment. The best you can do is recognize it. Anything else is a disappointment.
If you want to recognize your mother, do it at any other time, impromptu. Don't wait for the calendar to tell you it's time to recognize her.
Yes, merchants and the commercial world are more than ready to 'guilt' you into buying something. 'Works for them.
And what about those who would love to be mothers, more than anything else, but are not. Mothers Day raises the awareness of their bareness.
Good intentions sometimes have unexpected consequences.
Always be respectful, kind and generous. Don't wait for the calendar to tell you what to do.