Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

History & Meaning of Mother’s Day

framed art with a tribute to mothers

Hello Fellow Readers,  A friend’s mom passed away recently. Eleanor, a grand 98, lived an exceptionally long life. Still, losing a mom is heartbreaking. When Barbara called to share the news, she said how close it is to Mother’s Day. We always celebrate our Moms, I assured her, even after they are on the other side. Our chat brought a curiosity about the history of Mother’s Day— a fascinating story that parallels our world today. And, the story brings a special meaning to the holiday.

The history of Mother’s Day stems from a remarkable woman’s mission.

Pale pink peony flower wiht yellow centerAnna Marie Jarvis originated the holiday in the US, inspired by the contributions of her mother, who had a similar name. Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis was a pioneer in spreading unconditional love during a grim time in our history.

Born in Virginia in 1832, Ann’s family moved to West Virginia when her father, a Methodist minister, was transferred there. She married a Baptist minister and had eleven or thirteen children. Sadly, only four survived to adulthood. The others died of various diseases common then, including typhoid fever, which became an epidemic. And so, turning childhood diseases around became Jarvis’s life’s work. She began a Mother’s Day Work Club, and members visited families to teach them how to improve hygiene in their households.

Anna recalled a prayer her mother gave as part of a Sunday school lesson, wishing there would be a day to honor mothers. And so, on May 10, 1908, about a year after her mother’s death, the first Mother’s Day took place at Saint Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. That same afternoon fifteen thousand people attended the other service she organized in the Wanamaker store auditorium in Philadelphia, PA. Then began her mission to make Mother’s Day a national holiday. It came to be thanks to President Woodrow Wilson in 1914.

Ann Maria Jarvis’s contributions took place during severe divisiveness.
two hot pink peony flowers

Happy peony often blooms in time for Mother’s Day.

A remarkable part of the story is how her mother’s contributions impacted our country during a time of severe divisiveness. It was during the Civil War from 1861 to 1865.

West Virginia was the line in the sand between the north and south, both in proximity but more in the fiercely divided attitudes of the people then. Measles and Typhoid fever broke out in military camps, and Jarvis and her club members nursed the soldiers back to health, regardless of which side they served.

After the war, officials were trying to overturn the post-war contentions and called upon Jarvis for help. She organized a Mother’s Friendship Day to bring soldiers and their families from both sides together. There were threats of violence, but only love erupted as Ann shared a message of reconciliation and unity, bringing the audience to tears. Perhaps a turning point as the audience awoke to the truth that hate, divisiveness, and destruction must end. May we learn the same lesson this time too.

The meaning of Mother’s Day was not for profiteers.

There’s another intriguing part of this story. Mother’s Day quickly became commercialized, and makers of cards and candies, as well as florists, were profiting. Anna began a “campaign against Mother’s Day profiteers” and went as far as lobbying to remove Mother’s Day as a national holiday, hiring attorneys, and depleting her life savings before she died. I surmise it’s because Anna’s mission, like her mother’s, was not about profits or personal gain. It’s about unity, peace, and unconditional love. Happy Mother’s Day.

Garden Dilemmas?  (and now on your favorite Podcast App.)

This story is featured in Episode 15 of the Garden Dilemmas Podcast:

Portrait of an elderly woman with glasses and floral blouse

Eleanor Carin Battisto

“My mother loved Forsythia but became upset when a Forsythia bush was trimmed. She liked to have seen it in its natural look as it was intended to be. She also loved African Violet plants and had a green thumb as they thrived under her care. This will be the first Mother’s Day without my mom, but her legacy will live on.” Barbara Battisto



One of Mother’s Day’s glorious traditions is Shopping for Annuals.

For more about the history of Mother’s Day around the world

Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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