One of the proofs of America’s Christian origin and development is the history of her holidays. Though secularists and the irreligious have in recent decades both denied and denounced America’s Christian origin, overwhelming evidence demonstrates this Christian influence. At a time when human relationships in America and around the world are confused and conflicting, observance of God’s original design will always prove to be a blessing to the individual, the family, the church, the nation, and the world. Mother’s Day, like the overwhelming majority of American holidays, arose from within Christianity as part of a desire to recognize and celebrate everything that is good in the eyes of God.
In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, Christianity in Europe and North America began to cut itself adrift from its historic and biblical foundation. Though the leadership in the vast majority of Christian churches generally began this movement away from the historic faith of Christianity, the laity in those same denominations was far more hesitant to follow their leaders in this respect. The origin and development of Mother’s Day concerns a family and individuals who were resolved to be faithful to historic biblical Christianity.
Mother’s Day in America arose as a result of the Christian example of Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis (1832-1905) and her daughter, Anna Marie Jarvis (1864-1948), who was eager to extol the virtues of motherhood and who found in her own mother an exemplary individual.
Ann was born in Culpeper, Virginia, to a Methodist minister and his wife, the Rev. Josiah W. and Nancy Kemper Reeves. In 1850, Ann married Granville E. Jarvis, the son of a Philippi, West Virginia, Baptist minister, and moved to nearby Webster in Taylor County, West Virginia two years later, where Ann and Granville became deeply involved in the Methodist Church.
One of the greatest forces for good in American history has been known by historians as “Volunteerism.” This movement arose out of deep Christian evangelical convictions that under the preaching of the Gospel and the movement of God’s Spirit, Christians should diligently labor to improve every sphere of society. It might be said that Ann and her husband Granville were part of Volunteerism, but it would be more accurate to say that they represented the most influential streams of Christianity during its most vibrant eras.
Ann and Granville became deeply involved in the Methodist Church.
Along with the Baptists, the Methodists had followed the American frontier and generally the Methodist and Baptist churches were the first to appear in new towns and villages as America moved west. Having been raised in the historic Methodist tradition, Ann drew upon the looming examples of John Wesley––Methodism’s founder––and that heritage; she organized a series of Mothers’ Day Work Clubs in the towns of Webster, Grafton, Fetterman, Pruntytown, and Philippi to improve the general health and sanitary conditions of these towns. These clubs helped to raise money for medicine, hired nurses to work for families where women suffered from tuberculosis, and inspected the sanitation of milk and food. Encouraged by the efforts of the women, local doctors supported the formation of such clubs in other towns beginning in 1860.
At the onset of the Civil War in 1861, Ann Jarvis urged the Mothers’ Day Work Clubs to maintain neutrality, thereby allowing the clubs to minister to both Union and Confederate soldiers. Since the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad made their county of Taylor a strategic center during the war, the women’s clubs treated the wounded and helped to feed and clothe soldiers stationed in the area. In addition, Ann labored to preserve an element of peace in a community torn apart by political differences.
Near the end of the war, Ann and her husband Granville moved their family to the larger town of Grafton, West Virginia. As the war came to an end, soldiers from both sides of the conflict returned to their hometowns, only to be greeted by lingering hatred harbored against their fellow townsmen because of their allegiances during the war. In the summer of 1865, Ann organized a Mothers’ Friendship Day at the Pruntytown courthouse. Her desire was to help heal the bitterness of war held so deeply by those on both sides of the conflict. Despite fears that this event would erupt into violence, Ann’s efforts were deeply rewarded. The event was a great success, and Mothers’ Friendship Day was an annual event for several years to follow.
The motivation to help heal the hurts of the communities in which she lived was found in, then, the evangelical principles of the Methodist Church in which she was raised and in which she and her family remained. Under her husband’s lay leadership, Granville, the Andrews Methodist Church was built in Grafton in 1873. Here Ann taught Sunday School for the next twenty-five years.
In the opening years of the twentieth century, Ann, nearing the end of life, experienced life’s deepest sorrows. In 1902, Granville passed away and Ann soon after said good-bye to her home and friends that had been such an integral part of her life for nearly forty years. Moving to a town near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she was afforded the opportunity of living near her son, Claude, and two daughters, Anna and Lillian.
Only three years later, on May 9, 1905, Ann passed away, in a town just west of Philadelphia. Her Christian life and legacy was not to be quickly forgotten and soon became the focus and rallying cry for the importance of motherhood throughout the nation and around the world.
Two years after Ann’s death, on May 12, 1907, her daughter, Anna, led a small tribute to her mother at the Andrews Methodist Church and dedicated her own life to establishing a nationally recognized Mother’s Day that would enshrine the virtues of Christian womanhood in the conscience of the nation.
The following year, on May 10, 1908, the nation’s first official Mother’s Day ceremonies were held at the Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia, and the store auditorium of famed Presbyterian layman John Wanamaker, a merchant in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Having been chosen to speak in Philadelphia, Anna Jarvis sent a telegram to be read in the Andrews Methodist Church in her absence, reminding listeners of the purpose of the day, saying:
…To revive the dormant filial love and gratitude we owe to those who gave us birth. To be a home tie for the absent. To obliterate family estrangement. To create a bond of brotherhood through the wearing of a floral badge. To make us better children by getting us closer to the hearts of our good mothers. To brighten the lives of good mothers. To have them know we appreciate them, though we do not show it as often as we ought…
Mother’s Day is to remind us of our duty before it is too late.
This day is intended that we may make new resolutions for a more active thought to our dear mothers. By words, gifts, acts of affection, and in every way possible, give her pleasure, and make her heart glad every day, and constantly keep in memory Mother’s Day; when you made this resolution, lest you forget and neglect your dear mother, if absent from home, write her often, tell her of a few of her noble good qualities and how you love her.
“A mother’s love is new every day.”
God bless our faithful good mothers.
The Honorable Ira E. Robinson, member of the congregation, offered a resolution establishing the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day. The resolution was immediately adopted, and Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church became the Mother Church of Mother’s Day. John Wanamaker presided over the afternoon service in Philadelphia at his store’s auditorium. Speaker Anna Jarvis addressed a crowd of 5,000 while another 15,000 sought entrance. Following the service, an official Mother’s Day Committee was selected with two of America’s most deeply committed evangelical Christian businessmen appointed to the committee––John Wanamaker and H. J. Heinz, among others.
In 1914, Anna Jarvis requested that Representative Heflin of Alabama and Senator Sheppard of Texas introduce a joint resolution establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. The resolution passed both Houses, President Woodrow Wilson signed the resolution, and William Jennings Bryan, Secretary of State, proclaimed it.
Though unknown to most, it is a fact that Mother’s Day in the United States and most parts of the world arose out of the heart of the Christian evangelical women’s volunteer movement. May God bless our homes, churches, and nation with mothers whose hearts are a similar blessing to the world!
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 “The Founder of Mothers Day,” http://www.wvgenweb.org/taylor/mothersday/founder.htm, May 13, 2012.