Anna Jarvis (1864-1948) maintained a close correspondence with her mother Ann Reeves Jarvis all through her later years.
Ann Reeves Jarvis was proud of her daughter’s achievements and the letters themselves served to keep mother and daughter closely linked.
After the death of Jarvis’ father, Granville, in 1902, she urged her mother to move to Philadelphia to stay with her and her brother. Both brother and sister worried about their mother’s health and Ann Reeves Jarvis ultimately agreed to move to Philadelphia in 1904 when her heart problems necessitated it.
Jarvis spent the majority of her time taking care of her mother as Ann Reeves Jarvis’ health declined. She died on May 9, 1905.
Movement towards Mother’s Day
On May 10, 1908, three years after her mother’s death, Jarvis held a memorial ceremony to honor her mother and all mothers at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church, today the International Mother’s Day Shrine, in Grafton, West Virginia, marking the first official observance of Mother’s Day.
The International Mother’s Day Shrine has been a designated National Historic Landmark since October 5, 1992.
Although Jarvis did not attend this service, she sent a telegram that described the significance of the day as well as five hundred white carnations for all who attended the service. As she spoke in Philadelphia at the Wanamaker’s Store Auditorium, she moved her audience with the power of her speech.
Commercialization, conflict, and later life
Although the national proclamation represented a public validation of her efforts, Jarvis always believed herself to be the leader of the commemorative day and therefore maintained her established belief in the sentimental significance of the day to honor all mothers and motherhood.
Jarvis valued the symbolism of such tangible items as the white carnation emblem, which she described as:
Its whiteness is to symbolize the truth, purity and broad-charity of mother love; its fragrance, her memory, and her prayers. The carnation does not drop its petals, but hugs them to its heart as it dies, and so, too, mothers hug their children to their hearts, their mother love never dying. When I selected this flower, I was remembering my mother’s bed of white pinks.
Jarvis frequently referred to her mother’s memory during her efforts to maintain the sentimental heart of the day while also maintaining her own role as the founder of the holiday. In addition to her efforts to maintain her position and recognition as the holiday’s founder, Jarvis struggled against forces of commercialization that overwhelmed her original message.
Among some of these forces were the confection, floral and greeting card industry.
The symbols that she had valued for their sentimentality, such as the white carnation, easily became commodified and commercialized.
By the 1920s, as the floral industry continued increasing prices of white carnations and then introduced red carnations to meet the demand for the flower, Anna Jarvis’ original symbols began to become re-appropriated, such as the red carnation representing living mothers and the white carnation honoring deceased mothers.
She attempted to counter these commercial forces, creating a badge with a Mother’s Day emblem as a less ephemeral alternative to the white carnation.
Her negative opinion of these commercial forces was evident in her contemporary commentary, saying:
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. A pretty sentiment.
However, her efforts to hold on to the original meaning of the day led to her own economic hardship. While others profited from the day, Jarvis did not, and she spent the later years of her life with her sister Lillie. In 1943, she began organizing a petition to rescind Mother’s Day.
However, these efforts were halted when she was placed in the Marshall Square Sanitarium in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
People connected with the floral and greeting card industries paid the bills to keep her in the sanitarium.
Anna Jarvis died on November 24, 1948 and was buried next to her mother, sister, and brother at West Laurel Hill Cemetery, near Philadelphia.