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The mother behind Mother's Day

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For those unfamiliar with the origins of Mother’s Day, it came about because of copywriter Anna Jarvis’ efforts to honor her deceased mother, Ann. It was May 12, 1907, when Jarvis held a memorial service in Grafton, West Virginia, paying homage to her mother’s volunteer work. Within five years, every state was observing Mother’s Day and President Woodrow Wilson declared it a national holiday in 1914.

While Jarvis promoted wearing a white carnation as a simple tribute to mothers, no good deed goes unpunished! To Jarvis’ dismay, Mother’s Day soon succumbed to crass commercialism. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “what had originally been primarily a day of honour became associated with the sending of cards and the giving of gifts, however, in protest against it’s commercialization, Jarvis spent the last years of her life trying to abolish the holiday she had brought into being.”

But what about the “mother” behind Mother’s Day, Ann Reeves Jarvis? While working to gain recognition of Mother’s Day, the younger Jarvis is said to have been inspired in 1876 by her mother’s prayer while teaching – “I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial Mother’s Day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life.”

According to History. com, Ann Reeves Jarvis helped organize “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” in pre-Civil War years to teach local women how to properly care for their children. In 1868, the socially conscious elder Jarvis organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day” to help heal the wounds of the Civil War by gathering former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote reconciliation in a region of the country still divided over the Civil War.

Katharine Lane Antolini, assistant professor of history and gender studies at West Virginia Wesleyan College and author of Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Struggle for the Control of Mother’s Day speculated that the commemoration the elder Jarvis had in mind was not what came about but more of a day for community service – not FOR mothers but “on which mothers would get together for a day of service to help out other mothers who were less fortunate than they were.”

Antolini attributes the elder Jarvis’ dedication to community service to her own motherhood experience “infused with sadness,” resulting from conditions not uncommon in her home state of West Virginia.

In The Surprisingly Sad Origins of Mother’s Day, Time magazine’s Olivia Waxman wrote, “Of the 13 children that she bore, only four lived to adulthood. An estimated 15-30% of infants in that Appalachian region died before their first birthday throughout the 19th and early 20th century, largely due to epidemics that were spread by poor sanitary conditions.”

In 1858 while pregnant for the sixth time, Ann Reeves Jarvis appealed to her brother Dr. James Reeves, who was involved in treating typhoid fever victims, to improve the situation. Brother and sister organized events where doctors would lead discussions with local mothers on the latest hygiene practices that could keep their children healthy – hence the Mothers’ Day Work Clubs!

During the decades following the national recognition of Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis found herself fighting florists and candy makers who used the day as “a means of profiteering” without giving her credit.

It is Antolini’s belief that “fighting with other people for full credit for starting Mother’s Day was a key factor in Jarvis eventually ending up broke, blind and in a sanitarium.” Anna Jarvis never married or became a mother herself. She died in 1948 and was buried next to her mother.

Despite myths and marketing, the origins of Mother’s Day and motherhood itself are not pure bliss. While there are joys and highs that only a mother can experience, there is also a capacity for intense sadness, but one thing is certain, once you become a mother, your heart is never your own again.

The column represents the thoughts and opinions of Connie Clements. Opinion columns are NOT the opinion of the Navasota Examiner.

Clements is a freelance reporter for the Navasota Examiner and an award-winning columnist.