President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation on May 9, 1914, asking Americans to give a public expression of reverence to mothers through the celebration of Mother’s Day. Carnations have come to represent the day as they were distributed at one of the first commemorations honoring the mother of the founder of Mother’s Day.
Anna Jarvis, a Grafton, West Virginia native, is credited with conceiving and launching the campaign that resulted in the creation of a national day honoring mothers in the United States. Legislative actions and annual Congressional proclamations documented in the Congressional Record praise her tireless efforts to create a lasting commemoration to her mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis, as well as to all mothers, living and deceased.
After her mother’s death on May 9, 1905, Anna Jarvis was determined to fulfill her mother’s hope that a Memorial Mothers Day be established to recognize the important roles that mothers play in the family, church, and community. Anna Reeves Jarvis embodied the attributes of many nineteenth-century women who believed that mothers, and in fact all women, could be a powerful force in their communities. Mrs. Jarvis acted upon her beliefs and created Mothers Day Work Clubs that tackled local problems such as poor sanitary conditions and epidemic diseases. When the Civil War came to Grafton, these clubs turned to nursing soldiers on both sides of the conflict and trying to stave off division in the community.
Other women appealed to the organized force of mothers for various causes—for example, Julia Ward Howe, who had worked with the widows and orphans of Civil War soldiers. When the Franco-Prussian War erupted in 1870, Mrs. Howe issued her declaration, Appeal to Womanhood throughout the World urging mothers to unite for the cause of peace. Woman suffrage was another important cause of the time. Mothers such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Elizabeth Smith Miller, as well as Julia Ward Howe, were pivotal in organizing women to rally for their right to vote.
Anna Jarvis’ efforts to honor her mother’s accomplishments encompassed all of these women, as step by step, from local recognition in Grafton in 1908, to the state of West Virginia’s proclamation in 1910, the national holiday became reality.
The moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of that wonderful mother of mine;
The birds never sing but a message they bring
Of that wonderful mother of mine.
The Library’s collections are rich in materials that relate to the lives of mothers, their children and their communities. For example, see an image of a new mother, Frances Yokoyama, enjoying her newborn baby, Fukomoto, while being held in the Manzanar Relocation Center during World War II; read a letter from Jennie Bernstein to her son Leonard, or listen to a Portuguese fado, “Minha mai minha amada” (“O my mother, my beloved”).
- Read newspaper articles about Mother’s Day–the celebrations, its history, and personal remembrances in Chronicling America, the Historic American Newspapers database. Start with Mother’s Day: Topics in Chronicling America to view a sample of articles.
- Search on mother or mothers songs in the collections of audio recordings to listen to early recordings, or search the sheet music collections to find an old song to sing to your mother.
- Search on mother in the motion picture collections to find films depicting relationships between mothers and children.
- Search on mother or mothers in the collections of photos and prints to find a diverse array of images.
- Examine the Women’s History collections for more information on the many contributions and accomplishments of women.
- Search on Anna Jarvis or Mother’s Day in Congress.gov, the Library’s access to legislative information, to find Mother’s Day proclamations from Congress and resolutions such as HR 2268, Mother’s Day Centennial Commemorative Coin Act, introduced in the House of Representatives on May 10, 2007.
- To commemorate the Library’s bicentennial, members of Congress and individuals across the nation gathered stories from all fifty states documenting America’s richly diverse culture. These stories are featured in Local Legacies, where you can find West Virginia’s Mother’s Day Observance.
- View images of Grafton, West Virginia in the Highsmith (Carol M.) Archive. Included is The Mother With Children statue, by William Douglas Hopen, which is outside the International Mother’s Day Shrine.