Anna Jarvis would hate how Mother’s Day is celebrated by many Americans.
The feisty founder of the holiday (which is Sunday, always the second Sunday in May) had no children of her own, but despised how commercialized Mother’s Day was, even in her lifetime (1864-1948).
The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum at 700 22nd St., Rock Island, has a small display about Jarvis, including a copy of the 1934 letter she wrote to the U.S. Speaker of the House, seeking a national tribute for Mother’s Day. President Woodrow Wilson had declared it a federal holiday in 1914.
“If such a tribute were given to our Homes, it would hearten them, and the home folks that have been self-independent and carried on thru their sacrifice and patriotism in a way little known – for their pride has kept it a secret as far as possible,” the letter says.
“Therefore, it seems to me not any recognition by our highest representatives in Washington would be too great a reward of gratitude for these splendid home folks that are the backbone of our country,” Jarvis wrote.
Anna Jarvis was one of 13 children, only four of whom lived to adulthood. Her older brother was the only one to have children of his own, but many died young from tuberculosis and his last direct descendant died in the 1980s. Her campaign for a special day to celebrate mothers was inherited from her own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, according to a 2020 story on BBC.com.
Mrs. Jarvis herself lost nine children, including five during the American Civil War (1861-1865) who most likely succumbed to disease. When she died in 1905, surrounded by her four surviving children, a grief-stricken Anna promised to fulfil her mother’s dream, though her approach to the memorial day was quite different, the BBC piece said.
Whereas Mrs. Jarvis wanted to celebrate the work done by mothers to improve the lives of others, Anna’s perspective was that of a devoted daughter. Her motto for Mother’s Day was “For the Best Mother who Ever Lived—Your Mother.”
When the price of carnations rocketed, she released a press release condemning florists: “WHAT WILL YOU DO to rout charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and other termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations?” By 1920, she was urging people not to buy flowers at all.
Her New York Times obituary began: “Anna M. Jarvis, founder of Mother’s Day and bitter opponent of the encroachment of commercialism into the observance, died at Marshall Square Sanitorium in West Chester, Penn.”
Jarvis, who late in life was totally blind and partially deaf, had been living at the sanitorium since 1943. Each Mother’s Day since then, her room was swamped with cards and letters from well-wishers all over the world, the obit said. “A militant, outspoken woman, she was embittered in late years, however, because too many sons bought printed cards to send to their mothers, instead of writing.”
Jarvis once said: “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.”
Mother’s Day brings in $31B in spending
Mother’s Day spending is expected to total $31.7 billion this year, up 13% from 2021 — according to the annual consumer survey released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Prosper Insights & Analytics.
Approximately 84% of U.S. adults are expected to celebrate Mother’s Day. The average consumer spending is projected to be $245.76, a record for the holiday, up 11% from last year and up 25% compared to the pre-pandemic level of 2019, according to Forbes.
“Consumers are eager to find memorable ways to honor their mothers and other important women in their lives and are willing to spend a little extra on this sentimental holiday,” said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of NRF.
The free Karpeles Museum is offering a new homemade card-making activity this week, said museum co-director Margie Cain. The original Jarvis letter to Congress is at the Karpeles Museum in Jacksonville, Fla.
“It’s kind of sad to me,” Cain said Friday of Jarvis’s story, noting she wanted the holiday to be something more pure that honored mothers, and not commercialized.
Died bitter and poor
“She actually ended up dying a bitter, poor woman,” she said. Jarvis would prefer that children just spend time with their mothers on Sunday.
“A lot of times, for older people, they just want their children and family with them,” Cain said. “My kids all ask me, ‘What do you want for Mother’s Day?’ I just want you to visit me. Call me if you’re not near. That’s what we want.”
She has five children – Ben, Becca, Joy, Joseph, and David – and five grandkids, with two more on the way (from Joy and Becca). Two of the families are in the QC; Joseph lives in Wisconsin and Joy and David are in Oklahoma City.
Cain’s favorite Mother’s Day gifts are not material things, but simple visits and time with her family. “I’m a weird Mom,” she said. “I guess I’m like Anna Jarvis, you know. Things aren’t important, time is. That’s why we did this for people to make cards.”
The table for cards at Karpeles has been set up for the public since Thursday. The free museum is open until 3:30 p.m. today, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, and closed Sunday.