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Mother’s Day: A rocky start to our No. 1 floral holiday

The history of Mother’s Day began with a daughter’s pursuit to honor her beloved mother.

Mother’s Day is a holiday honoring motherhood. For many, it’s a time to show love and gratitude to the women who have been mentors and caregivers; those who help shape us into who we are. Despite how it seems, card companies did not invent this holiday. So, what is the history behind Mother’s Day?

mother1 In 1858, Ann Reeves Jarvis was a social activist and community organizer who cared for wounded soldiers during the Civil War and created Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address public health issues. These clubs also helped to teach local women how to care for their children properly.

After the American Civil War, Mother’s Day was suggested by social activist Julia Ward Howe in 1870; Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” a call to action that asked mothers to unite in promoting world peace. It is a landmark in the history of Mother’s Day in the sense that it is a precursor to the modern Mother’s Day celebrations.

The Mother’s Day we know today arose in the 1900s as a result of the efforts of Anna Jarvis, daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis. After her mother’s death in 1905, Jarvis’ mission was to honor her mother by continuing the work she started to set aside a day to honor mothers. Anna Jarvis organized and held a memorial for her mother in Grafton, West Virginia on the second Sunday in May because it was the Sunday closest to her mother’s death.

The first formal Mother’s Day commemoration was marked with another service the following year May 1908 at the same church in Grafton. Jarvis had white carnations distributed to the mothers, sons, and daughters in attendance. The white carnation, her mother’s favorite flower, became the holiday’s symbol of the purity, strength, and endurance of motherhood.

While waging a relentless letter-writing campaign to drum up support for Mother’s Day, Jarvis created the Mother’s Day International Association and trademarked the phrases “second Sunday in May” and “Mother’s Day.” By 1914, President Woodrow Wilson designated the second Sunday in May, Mother’s Day, making it an official national holiday. Jarvis was gratified by her preferred placement of the apostrophe in “Mother’s Day” — making it singular possessive, not a plural possessive so that each family would honor its one and only mother.

By the early 1920s, Mother’s Day became a national cause, but not the one Jarvis had in mind. Jarvis took great pains to focus the day on children celebrating their mothers. Jarvis believed she’d created a monster when she saw the florists, card and candy industries cashing in on Mother’s Day and felt public interest groups were using the holiday to make political statements. Jarvis endorsed open boycotts against florists who raised the prices of white carnations every May. Jarvis spent her remaining years promoting the Mother’s Day movement but was unsuccessful at thwarting what she considered commercialization of the day.

Mother’s Day continues to be celebrated by presenting mothers and other women with gifts and flowers. This day is a time to make a mother feel special. It is a day to recognize and celebrate motherhood, along with all the fantastic things mothers do for us in our lives and in society.

Melissa Jones is an experienced mass market and e-commerce buyer with over 15 years in the floriculture industry.