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Mother's Day reaches 100th anniversary

On this 100th anniversary of Mother's Day, the woman credited with creating one of the world's most celebrated holidays probably wouldn't be pleased with all the flowers, candy or gifts.
Mother's Day Centennial
The Anna Jarvis Birthplace Museum commemorates the life of Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother's Day. James J. Lee / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

On this 100th anniversary of Mother's Day, the woman credited with creating one of the world's most celebrated holidays probably wouldn't be pleased with all the flowers, candy or gifts.

Anna Jarvis would want us to give mothers a white carnation — she felt it signified the purity of a mother's love.

Jarvis, who never married and never had children, got the Mother's Day idea after her mother said it would be nice if someone created a memorial to mothers.

Three years after her mother died in 1905, she organized the first official mother's day service at a church where her mother had spent more than 20 years teaching Sunday school.

Today, the former Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church is the official shrine to mothers around the world. On Sunday, the shrine will celebrate the 100th anniversary, giving each mother attending a special service a white carnation.

The shrine also serves as a "reminder to the accomplishments of these women and to the issues mothers still deal with today, trying to do the balancing act of being everything to everyone," said Cindi Mason, the shrine's director.

'Everyone has a mother'
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 83 million mothers in the United States. More mothers now work out of the home and the number of single-mother households has tripled to more than 10 million since 1970.

What has allowed Mother's Day to become celebrated on the second Sunday in May in 52 countries is "everyone has a mother," said Sally Thayer, a trustee of the International Mother's Day Shrine in Grafton. "It's a wonderful thing to celebrate."

Jarvis' devotion to and her fierce defense of Mother's Day could be tied to the feeling that "a certain era was passing and mothers like her mother were becoming fewer," said Laura Prieto, an associate professor of history and women's studies at Simmons College in Boston.

By all accounts, Jarvis' mother Ann was a community activist who worked to heal the divisions in north-central West Virginia following the Civil War, and to promote improved sanitation by creating Mothers Friendship Clubs.

"I would love to be like Mrs. Jarvis," said Olive Dadisman, who operates the Anna Jarvis Birthplace Museum in nearby Webster. "She was a soft-spoken, gentle woman, but she could convince the devil to give up his pitch fork."

She fought to protect its essence
West Virginia became the first state to recognize Mother's Day in 1910. President Woodrow Wilson approved a resolution in 1914 marking the second Sunday in May a nationwide observance.

"Mother's Day was meant to be — and still is — a celebration of a nineteenth-century ideal of motherhood, when mothers were supposed to dedicate themselves completely to nurturing their children and making a cozy, safe home," Prieto said.

Yet, Jarvis became increasingly disturbed as the celebration turned into an excuse to sell greeting cards, candy, flowers and other items.

Jarvis became known for scathing letters in which she would berate people who purchased greeting cards, saying they were too lazy to write personal letters "to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world."

Before she died in 1948, she protested at a Mother's Day celebration in New York, and was arrested for disturbing the peace.

The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend $15 billion this year honoring their mothers. Dining out is expected to be the No. 1 expense.

In the end, Mason said Jarvis was bitter about what the observance had become and "wished she would have never started the day because it became so out of control ..."

"But when you look at Mother's Day as being her baby of sorts, you can understand her protectiveness of it."