The 365 Commitment

Day 215 – The Apostrophe In Mother’s Day

I recently heard someone claim that Mother’s Day was merely a concoction of the greeting card industry—a belief easily fueled by today’s commercial frenzy. Indeed, it’s expected that consumers will shell out approximately $35 billion on cards, jewelry, and flowers each Mother’s Day. Despite its commercial veneer, the holiday wasn’t birthed from the profit-driven schemes of companies like Hallmark Media. In fact, the inspiration for Mother’s Day sprang from a simple Sunday School lesson and a heartfelt prayer, overheard by a 12-year-old named Anna Jarvis, which profoundly moved her to honor mothers everywhere.

Anna Jarvis’s Personal Inspiration

However, Anna Jarvis did not envision Mother’s Day as a general celebration of all mothers. Instead, she wanted the holiday to focus on the individual relationship between a child and their own mother, which is why she insisted that the holiday be named with a singular possessive ‘Mother’s,’ not a plural ‘Mothers’.’ Reference: Anna deeply adored her mother, a prominent figure in their local community, and drew inspiration from her. It was while Anna quietly absorbed a Sunday School lesson about biblical motherhood that her mother voiced a poignant prayer, expressing a hope that someone would one day establish a day to honor mothers. Moved by her mother’s words, Anna saw it as her personal mission to fulfill that wish.

Ann Reeves Jarvis: The Mother Behind the Daughter’s Inspiration

Ann Reeves Jarvis, Anna’s mother, was indeed a remarkable woman and a recognized leader in her community in Webster, Virginia—a region deeply affected by the Civil War. Ann witnessed firsthand the divisive effects of the war as it tore communities asunder along Northern and Southern allegiances. In response, she organized a Mothers’ Friendship Day to promote reconciliation among the divided loyalties. Ann was also a fervent advocate for public health; she believed that mothers could exert significant influence in this arena. She established Mothers’ Day Work Clubs, which rallied local mothers to take proactive roles in addressing public health concerns—tasks as critical as positioning septic tanks to avoid contaminating water supplies, a common cause of serious diseases in the 1800s. Anna, the eldest of Ann’s thirteen children, saw only four of her siblings reach adulthood, a testament to the harsh realities of the time.

The National Campaign for Mother’s Day

Anna Jarvis was deeply inspired by her mother. She transformed her inspiration into action, leading a massive letter-writing campaign that eventually made Mother’s Day a national holiday on the second Sunday in May—a time chosen to honor her own mother’s birth month. After her mother’s death in May of 1905, Anna dedicated her life to establishing this day as a special occasion for everyone to honor their own mothers. She founded the Mother’s Day International Association and quickly copyrighted the phrase ‘Mother’s Day,’ along with the white carnation emblem she chose to symbolize purity and endurance. Despite being a single, childless woman, Anna invested an intense amount of energy in promoting this special day. By 1914, her efforts culminated in President Woodrow Wilson signing a proclamation that officially recognized Mother’s Day as a national day of observance. Yet, Anna was disheartened when people mistakenly credited Wilson as the founder of Mother’s Day, overlooking her nearly decade-long campaign that had already garnered support from congressmen, senators, governors, newspapers, and journals across nearly every state.

The Shift from Personal to Political

Anna Jarvis’s concerns extended beyond receiving proper recognition for founding Mother’s Day. She observed figures like Frances Perkins and Eleanor Roosevelt using the day to promote public funding for causes. During the 1930s, amidst a broader push for charitable funding, the Maternity Center Association (MCA) emerged as one notable cause. To circumvent Anna’s trademark, they cleverly shifted the apostrophe in their promotions to ‘Mothers’ Day’ to focus on maternal mortality rates and related issues, garnering support from Perkins and Roosevelt. Deeply troubled, Anna demanded Perkins resign as Secretary of Labor. She was vehemently opposed to the use of federal funds in what she saw as a willful violation of her trademark and, more crucially, a shift from honoring individual mothers to focusing on political issues and broader maternal causes.

Reflecting on the True Spirit of Mother’s Day

Anna Jarvis envisioned a day dedicated solely to honoring our individual mothers. She urged people to visit their moms or, if that wasn’t possible, to write them a heartfelt letter. She fervently fought against the commercialization of Mother’s Day, striving to preserve the significance of the apostrophe in ‘Mother’s Day.’ Undoubtedly, the rampant commercialization of the holiday today would have sparked her vehement opposition. I can almost envision her launching a vigorous campaign against any attempt to monetize the day. Tragically, her later years saw her dismissed as eccentric and ultimately confined to a Philadelphia mental health facility, where she passed away. As I conclude this article, I find myself drawn to Anna’s version of Mother’s Day. Today, I too will focus on the apostrophe—and call my mom. That said, I might still browse online for flowers, cards, jewelry, and gifts for my wife, mom, mother-in-law, and grandmother, embracing the spirit of the day as we know it now.

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