From Sanitation to Libation: The evolution of Mother’s Day

mothers-day-anna-jarvis_79524_990x742Having worked in the restaurant industry for the past 10 years, I can say that Mother’s Day is  certainly the cash cow of Sunday brunches for all employees. Mimosas are a-flowing and tips are a-plentiful. Today I’ve come across this surprising history of the holiday, worth sharing before we all run off to send out our last minute flowers and hallmark cards!

National Geographic writes in Mother’s Day Turns 100: It’s Surprisingly Dark History, of Anna Jarvis, founder of a holiday formed around collective work groups,community health, peace between soldiers/sons, and ultimately an appreciation for all this hard work.

It all started in the 1850s, when women’s organizer Ann Reeves Jarvis—Anna’s mother—held Mother’s Day work clubs to improve sanitary conditions and try to lower infant mortality by fighting disease and curbing milk contamination…The groups also tended wounded soldiers from both sides during the U.S. Civil War from 1861 to 1865.

Anna Jarvis never had children of her own, but the 1905 death of her own mother inspired her to organize the first Mother’s Day observances in 1908. Largely through Jarvis’s efforts, Mother’s Day came to be observed in a growing number of cities and states until U.S. President Woodrow Wilson officially set aside the second Sunday in May in 1914 for the holiday.

Anna Jarvis’s idea of an intimate Mother’s Day quickly became a commercial gold mine centering on the buying and giving of flowers, candies, and greeting cards—a development that deeply disturbed Jarvis. She set about dedicating herself and her sizable inheritance to returning Mother’s Day to its reverent roots. Jarvis’s fervent attempts to reform Mother’s Day continued until at least the early 1940s. In 1948 she died at 84 in Philadelphia’s Marshall Square Sanitarium.

According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend an average of $162.94 on mom this year, down from a survey high of $168.94 last year. Total spending is expected to reach $19.9 billion. The U.S. National Restaurant Association reports that Mother’s Day is the year’s most popular holiday for dining out.


Caterina Gironda, Assistant Editor

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