Anna Maria Jarvis may not be a household name like Woodrow Wilson or General George McClellan, but just like these men that her life intersected with, she created a legacy still remembered in the present day. Anna Jarvis, and by all inspiration, her mother, Ann, are the women that first brought the idea of celebrating mothers, and the work they do, to the people of the United States of America.
Anna Jarvis was born in 1864, in Webster, WV at the decline of the Civil War. The home in which she was born had previously served as Gen. McClellan’s first field operations outpost in Western Virginia at the start of the Civil War. The house is now known as the Anna Jarvis House and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979.
As a young child, Anna and the Jarvis family moved into the city of Grafton, WV, and Anna and her mother Ann Reeves Jarvis began to attend the Methodist church in town, even though her father, a minister himself, attended the Baptist church. Ann Reeves Jarvis was very dedicated to her faith, even helping to construct the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church that stands today, housing the International Mother’s Day Shrine dedicated to all mothers, living and deceased. Though it was Anna who petitioned the church leaders to enact a celebration for her mother after her death, it had been the elder Jarvis’s dream to create something such as this to honor the work that mothers do. Even closing one of her Sunday School children’s sermons with a prayer that she hoped someone, somewhere, would create a memorial to honor mothers everywhere.
Anna was 12 years old when she heard her mother’s words and carried those wishes throughout her life. Anna grew up watching her mother host “mothers’ day clubs” similar to what Betsy Mills did in Marietta. The purpose of the mother’s work clubs that Ann founded was to educate the mothers of the area on health, hygiene, sanitation, and disease, as well as provide medications for those who were ill. The ultimate goal was to address the health of mothers and children and to reduce the high infant death rate at the time. This cause was close to Mrs. Jarvis’ heart as she herself only saw four of her twelve children live to adulthood.
As the needs of the area shifted during the war, Mrs. Jarvis led the clubs into helping wounded soldiers, even going as far as mandating that there be no violence among opposite sides of the war, continuing even after the war had concluded. Mrs. Jarvis enacted a Mother’s Friendship Day, celebrated for a few years, in which soldiers and their families from both sides of the war were welcomed to fellowship together, no matter what political beliefs they held. In the years that followed Mrs. Jarvis continued to teach Sunday School at Andrews ME Church, and Anna attended college in Virginia, eventually returning to Grafton to become a schoolteacher.
After Anna’s father, Granville Jarvis, died at the end of 1902, both Anna and her sister Lillian encouraged their mother to come to Philadelphia to live near their brother Claude. Ann Reeves Jarvis died May 9, 1905 and was buried in Philadelphia. Historical references, as noted on the International Mother’s Day Shrine history site, quote Miss Anna Jarvis during a visit to her mother’s gravesite as saying: “The time and place is here and the someone is your daughter, and by the grace of God you shall have that Mother’s Day.”
On the first anniversary of Ann Reeves Jarvis’ death, Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church held a memorial service for her. By 1907, Anna began petitioning to make the celebration of mothers a permanent, annual event. The idea gained momentum and on May 10, 1908, the first official Mother’s Day celebration was observed with the planning and encouragement of Miss Anna Jarvis. One of the details that Miss Jarvis made a priority was that everyone would wear a carnation, most white, though red carnations were worn as well, to honor mothers both living and deceased.
After continuing her campaign to fulfill her mother’s dream by writing letters, speaking at public events, and appealing to anyone who was able to back her pursuit, President Woodrow Wilson officially declared the second Sunday in the month of May to be a federal holiday honoring mothers everywhere. Anna had pushed for the date specifically because the second Sunday would always be the closest to the anniversary of her mother’s passing.
In the years that followed, Mother’s Day celebrations were adopted across the country, as well as in Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico, and all over the world. Though Anna Jarvis eventually became disheartened with the way the day became an opportunity for commercialization and profit by flower and card companies, the original Andrews church continued to celebrate and honor Mrs. Jarvis and mothers everywhere on the second Sunday in May.
Anna never sought or accepted any monetary compensation from the celebrations, and even petitioned to have the honorary day rescinded. Near the end of her life, Jarvis and her sister had both used their family inheritance to fight the commercialism that their very personal holiday had created, so much so that they died poor and destitute. Anna Jarvis died in 1948, in Philadelphia, at the age of 84. It has been noted that on the day Anna Jarvis was buried, the church bell at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton rang out eighty-four times, in her honor.
The Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church continued to have yearly Mother’s Day Observance until the congregation relocated to another Methodist church in Grafton. The last Mother’s Day was observed at the church in 1966. Though the church is still an integral part of history, it no longer serves as a denominational house of worship, but as a memorial to the history of the events that took place there. Just prior to the move, the International Mother’s Day Shrine was enacted as a nonprofit entity to continue the legacy of both the church constructed on the grounds in 1873 and that of Anna Jarvis and her mother, Ann. The sculpture of mother and children, by William Douglas Hopen, was revealed in 1982, for the 20th anniversary of the designation of the International Mother’s Day Shrine.
Each year the International Mother’s Day Shrine hosts an observance on Mother’s Day. This year it will be recorded and broadcast online, as it has been for the last couple of years, due to the pandemic. Marvin Gelhausen, a member of the nonprofit organization that maintains the shrine, provided the links to be able to join in the observance this year, May 8, 2022, via the Shrine’s website or their Facebook page.
In addition to the Mother’s Day Observance broadcast from the Mother’s Day Shrine, The Anna Jarvis Museum, located directly across the road from the Anna Jarvis House, will be hosting its annual Mother’s Day Founder’s Festival, from 10:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. Details of the event, as well as contact information for tours, can be found on the Anna Jarvis House Facebook page.
Between the months of May and October, both the International Mother’s Day Shrine and the Anna Jarvis House and Birthplace Museum are open to visitors and guided tours.