When turn-of-the-century activist Anna Jarvis helped found Mother’s Day in 1908, she was very specific about that tricky apostrophe. Instead of spelling it “Mothers Day” or “Mothers’ Day,” she wanted it “Mother’s Day” — because we only get one.
Miss Jarvis — she never married nor bore a child — didn’t want us to celebrate all mothers everywhere. She wanted each of us to celebrate our own. She made sure that was the precise punctuation President Woodrow Wilson used in his first proclamation.
Mother’s Day, celebrated in whatever way we each see fit, is observed today, the second Sunday in May. It’s been so since 1914.
Miss Jarvis’ own mother died in 1905.
“Two years later, Jarvis held a memorial for her mother and her good deeds,” biographer Josh Mapes says. “The next year, she again held a service, and gave away carnations, her mother’s favorite flower, to all who attended. Red and pink carnations were to be worn for living mothers, and white for those who had passed away. Jarvis wanted all to attend church and afterward, for children to spend time writing a note of appreciation to their mothers.”
She saw that simple carnation and a hand-written, heart-felt letter as the best way to express appreciation.
She hated impersonal greeting cards — in fact, she spent her life and her fortune battling the commercialization of the holiday. And she was arrested in 1948 for demonstrating outside a shop having a sale on carnations.
And once, when she ate lunch at a New York City tea room, she noticed a “Mother’s Day Salad.” She ordered it and dumped it on the floor.
She hated what Mother’s Day was then threatening to become.
“A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world,” she once said. “And candy! You take a box to mother — and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.”
Of course, times have changed. What would she think of a nice, quick Mother’s Day text message? Or a tweet?
And what would Anna Jarvis think about rushing out the night before to the nearest drugstore, to see what was left on the seasonal aisle?
“I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit,” she said. “What will you do to route charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and other termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations?”
Yes, there’s much to be said for the hand-written letter, the jotted-down remembrances, and the personal touch such a missive would communicate to Mom.
Because above all, Miss Jarvis wished us to remember “truth, purity and broad charity of mother love.”
And she was absolutely right. That’s something we can count on — one solid, fundamental truth. No matter where we lay our heads and no matter how far we stray, we know we have the love of our mothers.
Nothing is more worthy of celebration than that.