Mother’s Day: a lovely day with flowers and brunch, surely inspired by a gentle, kind woman to celebrate her children and mother. Nope. Not in the least. Anna Jarvis (1864-1948) never had children, and her original intent for Mother’s Day was as an anti-war statement.
Anna Jarvis was a tough, focused, determined woman who fought for every inch of what Mother’s Day was–including the apostrophe that really isn’t needed. (More about that in a minute.)
Anna Jarvis wasn’t even the originator of the idea–Julia Ward Howe promoted a Mother’s Peace Day as early as 1872. (Howe wrote The Battle Hymn of the Republic in 1861.) Anna Jarvis, however, was set to become the Mother of Mother’s Day, and sued others who had started earlier because she wanted to direct the celebration’s intent and focus.
She sued Frank Herring, a football coach at Notre Dame, in the 1920s, accusing him of “kidnapping Mother’s Day,” largely because she did not want a man representing Mother’s Day.
She was tough, and she did not give up. I’m liking her a lot better because it was hard for a woman to hold on to any intellectual property in a time when they were not allowed to vote. (The 19th Amendment passed in August, 1920.)
Jarvis fought against commercialism of the day, hating the idea that money was being spent on cards and card companies profiting. She herself went broke trying to keep the holiday away from commercial promoters; Jarvis never became the celebrity she wanted to be–a defender of peace and mothers. She died in a sanitarium, her emotional stability in question, at age 84. Many women, from Mary Magdalene through Joan of Arc to Eleanor Roosevelt were pushed out of the limelight because they were too bold, too outspoken, too right to be “allowed” to be famous. Women with strong opinions were often labeled, “mentally ill,” particularly when the women refused to give up the idea when ordered to by men.
The women who became famous for their views as well as their persistence deserve a special day, and Mother’s Day is as good as any, considering the founder.
Jarvis was so determined to shape Mother’s Day, that she insisted on the apostrophe after the “r”, making the day belong to every mother. Grammatically speaking, the apostrophe is used to show ownership, and days like Presidents Day are not about ownership–no president owns the day–they are days that celebrate certain people, not owned by them. But Jarvis was determined that on the day she wanted to control, each mother shared ownership in this day, and each mother would be honored by the apostrophe in the title.
So if you want to celebrate with flowers and lacy cards, go ahead. Do what your mom loves. But if your mom is tough and determined and focused, Anna Jarvis can be her hero, and yours, too.
–-Quinn McDonald teaches business writing and the connection of word changes and cultural changes.