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Anna Jarvis: Motherís Day
Motherís Day. The second Sunday in May. The day proud children present their mothers with school art projects such as macaroni picture frames and their handprints pressed in clay. Older sons and daughter begrudgingly take their mothers out to eat at some restaurant they would not be caught dead in the rest of the year or give their moms a gift certificate to some store that the child will find stuffed in a drawer after her funeral a few decades later. It is a boon to the economy with adult children spending a little less than $150 on dear old mom. That is almost a $16 billion influx to the economy.
While my mother is perfect, some of yours not so much, and you might have to listen on this beloved day every way you have disappointed her. You might have rented a room for nine months, but you pay for it the rest of your life. For you people, Motherís Day might be a little easier to handle if you know that the woman who created this holiday was insane. Anna Jarvis, the Mother of Motherís Day, was as crazy as they come. The purity of her love for her mother led her not only to create the holiday, but, as she grew older, led her to try to destroy it.
To say that Anna had a close relationship with her mother, Ann, would be an understatement. They were so close that her younger sister bemoaned that she spent her life feeling that she had been left out. It is easy to see why Anna adored her mother. Not only did Ann make sure her children were well educated, but she had founded the Mothersí Day Work Clubs in five separate cities. During the Civil War, women in these organizations clothed, fed and tended to the wounds of soldiers on both sides of the conflict and afterwards worked to improve the sanitary and health conditions of local residents.
Anna, her motherís best friend, never married and almost fell apart when Ann died on May 12, 1905. Now, most people would go through the stages of grief and move on. Anna, a former school teacher, never got over the loss. On the second anniversary of her motherís death, at a memorial service honoring her mother, Anna embarked on a campaign to honor her memory. Anna claimed the roots of the holiday were found in a prayer her mother had said when Anna was twelve. After talking to her Sunday school class about mothers in the Bible, her mother intoned, "I hope that someone, sometime will found a memorial motherís day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it." With a $400,000 inheritance from her mother, Anna began a seven-year campaign to heed this call.
By the next year, Anna had gotten her own hometown to recognize the holiday, mainly because she purchased five hundred carnations and passed them out to everyone in her church. She wrote thousands of letters to various public and religious officials sketching out the need for such a day. A person was not celebrating mothers in general, but their mother specifically, living or dead, that is why the apostrophe is after the ďrĒ in motherís. She pestered politicians and bureaucrats endlessly; often they gave in to her demands just to get her off their backs. At first, she did not get much response until one of her letters landed on the desk of philanthropist John Wanamaker. With his help, by the next year, forty-five states and four countries, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii, were celebrating the second Sunday in May.
To show their love for their mother, sons and daughters wore red or white carnations, because just like Motherís Day was the anniversary of her motherís death, carnations were her motherís favorite flower and the colors represented the purity of a motherís love. Red was to be worn if your mother was alive and white, if she had passed away. By 1911 almost every state was celebrating the holiday, and, so, it was not surprising that President Woodrow Wilson would declare it a national holiday three years later.
Motherís Day became a full time occupation for Anna, who soon quit her school teaching job. She devoted herself to seeing that it became an international holiday. Her home became so jam-packed with mementos, gifts and correspondences that she had to buy the house next door to store all the stuff. Her place was a hoarderís paradise devoted to just one cause.
When a person believes that their cause is pure and righteous, it is hard to accept the moneychangers setting up their wares in the temple. Merchants, candy makers, and florists saw it as an opportunity to make a lot of money. Anna never imagined her holiday including teddy bears, heart shaped boxes of chocolates, greeting cards, and pre-packaged crass commercialized production, but rather it was a day in which one shared their heart-felt feelings with the mother. (No wonder it took several years afterward for Fatherís Day to become a holiday. ďI love you, Dad.Ē ďYep, if you love me, you would get out of the way of the tv.Ē)
By the roaring Ď20s, Anna and her sister Ellsinore were on a two woman campaign to stop the holiday Anna had created. The passion she had spent getting the day recognized was now spent trying to slay the Frankenstein monster she had created. She threatened to sue the mayor of New York, Al Smith, if he did not call off a planned citywide celebration in 1923. He wisely cancelled all official events.
Acid dripped off Annaís tongue and pen. Few were safe from her attacks. When the US Post Office in the 1930s tried to release a Motherís Day stamp of Whistler's Mother, not only was it the wrong mother in her eyes, it was another example of how the holiday was getting away from its roots. She demanded an audience with President Franklin Roosevelt. While the president, in order to sooth her, got the words ďMotherís DayĒ removed from the stamp, she remained outraged that white carnations, her motherís flower, were still featured on it.
The sister gobbled up their inheritance trying to slay the beast they created and it became clear that the Mother of Motherís Day was not well balanced. The police had to drag her off when she tried the stop the American War Mothers from selling white carnations. She was often seen on the streets muttering to herself and showing strangers pictures of her mother and her from around the time that Ann had died. In 1943, she began going door-to-door to get people to sign a petition to rescind the holiday. Few people signed the disheveled womanís piece of paper. Motherís Day as a commercial holiday was here to stay whether Anna liked it or not.
Anna Jarvis became a recluse in her Pennsylvania home. In the window, there was a sign that proclaimed, ďWarning: Stay AwayĒ. She would often be found listening to the radio, hoping to hear some message from her long dead mother. She even chased one of her attorneys down the street with a broom. She was often referred to as ďthe crazy old spinster.Ē Elderly, half-blind, although she had been portrayed throughout her life as a successful businesswoman, at the end of her life, she was broke. An unknown, to her, benefactor paid her medical and nursing home bills until she died of a heart attack in 1948, at eighty-four years old. Ironically, it was the Floral Exchange, a group of florists, that made sure her needs were met the last few years of her life. Happy Motherís Day!
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