Have you heard the story of the woman who inspired the creation of the celebration we now know as “Mother’s Day”? Ann Jarvis was a Christian woman and social activist who worked tirelessly throughout her life to support her community in West Virginia (US). After her death, her daughter Anna was so inspired by the good work her mother accomplished that she fought for a nationally recognised day to celebrate mothers.
Born in 1832 to a Methodist minister, Ann married the son of a Baptist minister, Granville Jarvis. They began their lives together establishing a successful mercantile business in West Virginia, but soon experienced many hardships. Ann fell pregnant 12 times over the course of 17 years, losing all but four of her children to various diseases like measles, typhoid fever and diphtheria. It was this heartbreak that spurred Ann on in combatting childhood disease, trying to ensure that others in her community did not have to suffer these same losses. Her solution? “Mother’s Day Work Clubs.”
While pregnant with her sixth child, Ann started Mother’s Day Work Clubs with other mothers in her community. She believed women could be a powerful force to make a significant change. The aim of these clubs was to combat disease and unsanitary conditions by educating women in improving sanitation and health for their families. Members would raise money to buy medicine for sick community members, as well as provide in-house assistance for mothers suffering from debilitating health conditions like tuberculosis.
In 1861, the United States started experiencing unrest over the abolition of slavery. The American Civil War broke out, dividing the country between the northern and southern states. In Virginia, where Ann lived, the state was divided in their beliefs on slavery (later causing the separation and establishment of “West Virginia” in 1863). The state became an early battleground in the war, as it was key to both sides—being the capital for “the South” as well as being home to valuable mining and food production industries. With families being divided and husbands and sons joining military efforts from both sides, Ann and her clubs decided to show compassion and care to all people—not just those who agreed with their point of view. They took a pledge “that friendship and goodwill would not be a victim of the conflict”, adapting the mission of their clubs to feed, clothe and nurse injured and sick soldiers from both sides.
After the civil war had ended and fighting had ceased, there was still a lot of division and sorrow in the community. Officials asked Ann and her clubs to organise a day to bring soldiers and their families from both sides together for an attempt at reconciliation. In 1868, club members held a “Mother’s Friendship Day” event which was highly successful, even ending with all attendees singing “Auld Lang Syne” together in an emotional display of unity.
Ann faithfully taught Sunday school at her church for more than 25 years and would often preach at churches and organisations on topics such as “great mothers of the Bible” and “great value of hygiene for women and children”. She lived out her faith, with an unwavering dedication to celebrating and appreciating women and mothers.
When she died in 1905, Ann’s daughter began a crusade to have “Mother’s Day” made into an official celebration. The first observances of Mother’s Day were services organised by Anna to honour the memory of her mother. In 1914, US president Woodrow Wilson officially declared the second Sunday in May as national Mother’s Day, asking Americans to mark the day by displaying the US national flag.
Mother’s Day is now celebrated in more than 50 countries around the world.
Danelle Stothers is an assistant editor for Adventist Record. She lives in Sydney with her husband and young daughter.