Anna Jarvis: The woman who regretted creating Mother’s Day

The woman responsible for the creation of Mother’s Day, marked in the many countries on the second Sunday in May, would have approved of the modest celebrations likely to take place this year. The commercialisation of the day horrified her – to the extent that she even campaigned to have it rescinded.

When Elizabeth Burr received a phone call a few days ago from someone asking about her family history, she initially thought she had been scammed. “I thought, ‘OK, my identity has been stolen, I’ll never see my money again,'” she says.

In fact the call came from a family history researcher looking for living relatives of Anna Jarvis, the woman who founded Mother’s Day in the US over a century ago.

Anna Jarvis was one of 13 children, only four of whom lived to adulthood. Her older brother was the only one to have children of his own, but many died young from tuberculosis and his last direct descendant died in the 1980s.

So Elisabeth Zetland of MyHeritage decided to look for first cousins, and that was what led her to Elizabeth Burr.

When Elizabeth had been reassured that her savings were safe, she gave MyHeritage the surprising news that her father and aunts hadn’t celebrated Mother’s Day when they were growing up – out of respect for Anna, and her feeling that her idea had been hijacked by commercial interests and debased.

Short presentational grey line

Anna Jarvis’s campaign for a special day to celebrate mothers was one she inherited from her own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis.

Mrs Jarvis had spent her life mobilising mothers to care for their children, says historian Katharine Antolini, and she wanted mothers’ work to be recognised. “I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mothers’ day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it,” Mrs Jarvis said.

She was very active in the Methodist Episcopal Church, where, from 1858, she ran Mothers’ Day Work Clubs to combat high infant and child mortality rates, mostly due to diseases that ravaged their community in Grafton, West Virginia.

Mother of Anna M. Jarvis, Founder of Mother's Day - original caption: This is Anna Jarvis, mother of Miss Anna M. Jarvis who campaigned to have the second Sunday in May set aside each year as a day of honour to the mothers of the nation.
Image caption: Ann Reeves Jarvis

In the work clubs mothers learned about hygiene and sanitation, such as the vital importance of boiling drinking water. The organisers provided medicine and supplies to sick families and, when necessary, quarantined entire households to prevent epidemics.

Mrs Jarvis herself lost nine children, including five during the American Civil War (1861-1865) who most likely succumbed to disease, says Antolini, a professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College.

When Mrs Jarvis died in 1905, surrounded by her four surviving children, a grief-stricken Anna promised to fulfil her mother’s dream, though her approach to the memorial day was quite different, Antolini says.

Whereas Mrs Jarvis wanted to celebrate the work done by mothers to improve the lives of others, Anna’s perspective was that of a devoted daughter. Her motto for Mother’s Day was “For the Best Mother who Ever Lived—Your Mother.” This was why the apostrophe had to be singular, not plural.

“Anna envisioned the holiday as a home-coming, a day to honour your mother, the one woman who dedicated her life to you,” says Antolini.



This message was something everyone could get behind, and also appealed to churches – Anna’s decision to have the holiday on a Sunday was a smart move, says Antolini.

Three years after Mrs Jarvis’s death, the first Mother’s Day was celebrated in the Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton – Anna Jarvis chose the second Sunday in May because it would always be close to 9 May, the day her mother had died. Anna handed out hundreds of white carnations, her mother’s favourite flower, to the mothers who attended.

The popularity of the celebration grew and grew – the Philadelphia Enquirer reports that soon you could not “beg, borrow or steal a carnation”. In 1910 Mother’s Day became a West Virginia state holiday and in 1914 it was designated a national holiday by President Woodrow Wilson.

A huge factor in the day’s success was its commercial appeal. “Even though Anna never wanted the day to become commercialised, it did very early. So the floral industry, greeting card industry and candy industry deserve some of the credit for the day’s promotion,” says Antolini.

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) American painter and illustrator, at work on official 1951 Mother's Day poster
Image caption: Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) American painter and illustrator, at work on an official 1951 Mother’s Day poster

But this was absolutely not what Anna wanted.

When the price of carnations rocketed, she released a press release condemning florists: “WHAT WILL YOU DO to rout charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and other termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations?” By 1920, she was urging people not to buy flowers at all.

She was upset with any organisation that used her day for anything but her original, sentimental, design, says Antolini. This included charities that used the holiday for fund-raising, even if they meant to help poor mothers.

“It was a day meant to celebrate mothers, not pity them because they were poor,” explains Antolini. “Plus some charities were not using the money for poor mothers like they claimed.”

Mother’s Day was even dragged into the debate over women’s votes. Anti-suffragists said that a woman’s true place was in the home and that she was too busy as a wife and mother to be involved in politics. For their part, suffrage groups would argue, “If she is good enough to be the mother of your children, she is good enough to vote.” And they stressed the need for women to have a say in the future well-being of their children.

Anna Jarvis (1864-1948), American woman who campaigned for the holiday of Mother's Day. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Image caption: Anna Jarvis (1864-1948)

The only one not to take advantage of Mother’s Day, it seems, was Anna herself. She refused money offered to her by the florist industry.

“She never profited from the day and she could easily have done so. I admire her for that,” says Antolini.

Anna and her sister Lillian, who was visually impaired, survived on the inheritance from their father and their brother Claude, who ran a taxi business in Philadelphia before dying of a heart attack.

But Anna went on to spend every penny fighting the commercialisation of Mother’s Day.

Elizabeth Burr and her daughter, Madison
Image caption: Elizabeth Burr, the cousin called out of the blue by MyHeritage, and her daughter, Madison

Even before it became a national holiday she had claimed copyright on the phrase “Second Sunday in May, Mother’s Day”, and threatened to sue anyone who marketed it without permission.

“Sometimes groups or industries would purposely use the possessive plural spelling ‘Mothers’ Day’ in order to get around Anna’s copyright claims,” says Antolini. A Newsweek article written in 1944 claimed she had 33 pending lawsuits.

By then she was 80 and almost blind, deaf and destitute, and being cared for in a sanatorium in Philadelphia. There have long been claims that the floral and card industries secretly paid for Anna Jarvis’s care, but Antolini has never been able to verify this. “I would like to think that they did, but it just may be a good story and not true,” she says.

One of Anna’s final acts, while still living with her sister, was to go door-to-door in Philadelphia asking for signatures to back an appeal for Mother’s Day to be rescinded. Once she had been admitted to the sanatorium, Lillian soon died of carbon monoxide poisoning while trying to heat the run-down house. “Police claimed that icicles hung from the ceiling because it was so cold,” says Antolini. Anna herself died of heart failure in November 1948.

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Jane Unkefer, 86, another of Anna’s first cousins (and Elizabeth Burr’s aunt), thinks Anna Jarvis became obsessed with her anti-commercialisation crusade.

“I don’t think they were very wealthy, but she totally ran through whatever money she had,” she says.

“It’s embarrassing. I wouldn’t want people to think the family wasn’t caring for her, but she ended up in the equivalent of a pauper’s grave.”

They may not have been able to help her at the end of her life, but the family did honour Anna’s memory in another way – by not celebrating Mother’s Day for several generations.

“We really didn’t like Mother’s Day,” says Jane Unkefer. “And the reason we didn’t is that my mother, as a child, had heard a lot of negative things said about Mother’s Day. We acknowledged it as a nice sentiment, but we didn’t go in for the fancy dinner or the bouquets of flowers.”

Frances Talbott Miller with her three children, Jane, Emily and Richard
Image caption: Jane Unkefer (right), Emily d’Aulaire and Richard Talbott with their mother, Frances

As a young mother Jane used to stop in front of a plaque honouring Mother’s Day in Philadelphia and think about Anna. “It’s a sort of a poignant story because there’s so much love in it,” says Jane. “And I think what has come out of it is a nice thing. People do remember their mom, just the way she would have wanted them to.”

Jane confesses she has changed her mind about the celebration now. “Many generations later, I’ve forgotten all the negative things my mother ever said about it, and I get very angry if I don’t hear from my children. I want them to honour me and my day,” she says.

Jane’s younger sister, Emily d’Aulaire, has also found her attitude to Mother’s Day altering over time.

“I didn’t even really know about it until my own child was in school and came home with a Mother’s Day gift,” she says. “Our mother used to say something like, ‘Every day is Mother’s Day.'”

By: Vibeke Venema (BBC Stories)

Coronavirus: I’m ‘enjoying’ Formula 1’s enforced break – Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton says he is “enjoying” some aspects of Formula 1’s enforced break because it has given him time to refresh and revitalise himself.

The 2020 season is on hold until July because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Hamilton, said: “There have been times in the past five years that I thought a rest would be good for body and mind.

“For an athlete in their prime, it’s never a good thing to step away for a year but we have been handed a part-sabbatical, which I am enjoying.”

The 35-year-old added: “I feel fresher and healthier than ever.”

Coronavirus: China reports rise in new cases

China has reported its first double-digit rise in new rises cases in 10 days on Sunday, saying 14 new cases had been detected, 12 of them domestic infections and two brought from abroad.

Eleven of those domestic cases were in the northeastern province of Jilin and 1 in Hubei province, whose capital Wuhan is considered to have been the original epicentre of the global pandemic.

Jilin shares a border with North Korea, where the virus situation is unclear.

I’m not responsible for your problem, Ortom tells index case

Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom has told the alleged COVID-19 index case in the state, Mrs Susan  Okpe,  that he is not the architect of her woes.

United Kingdom-based Okpe, who was  in the state  in March for a burial, has accused the federal and  state governments of keeping her in an isolation centre  after  claiming she was coronavirus positive and named as Benue’s index case.

In a viral  video, Okpe  claimed  she had not  taken any medication in   her   43 days in isolation and had not  developed COVID-19  symptoms.

She accused Ortom  of stigmatisation by    disclosing  her identity and  not forwarding  the results of the tests to her.

But the governor  denied her accusation, saying it was the  Nigeria  Centre  for Disease Control that  carried out the COVID-19 testing  on her.

In a  statement by  his  Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase,  on Saturday, Ortom said   he had no regrets in revealing Okpe’s   identity.

He said,     “The decision was made in the best interest of the people of the state who have continued to appreciate the governor for the proactive approach to contain the pandemic. With the identity of the index case known,  tracing and isolating  all who came in contact with her became easy.

“It is the constitutional duty of the governor to ensure  safety and wellbeing of his people. Section 26 (2) (e) of the National Health Act 2014 gives the government the powers to disclose information relating to a person if ‘non-disclosure of the information represents a serious threat to public health’.”

He added,  “Even in the United Kingdom where she left for Nigeria, the Prime Minister tested positive for COVID-19 and went public to say that he had contracted the disease. He was treated and later discharged.

“But here, Mrs Okpe has refused treatment and taken to daily production of videos to castigate all medical personnel who attempt to attend to her, government officials and anyone who holds a contrary opinion regarding her case.”

“It is important to state that Ortom is not the architect of Mrs Okpe’s problems. If there is anyone who promotes unity and shows love to the various ethnic groups in Benue State, that person is  Ortom.

“She claimed not to have seen her COVID-19 test results, and in another breath described the same results as fake. How was she able to know that the results are fake without seeing them?

US’s Fauci in self-quarantine after COVID-19 exposure

Dr Anthony Fauci, leading member of White House’s coronavirus task force, has placed himself in quarantine after contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

The director of the US’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases tested negative for COVID-19, according to the institute, and will continue to be tested regularly.

It added that he is considered at “relatively low risk” based on the degree of his exposure, and that he would be “taking appropriate precautions” to mitigate the risk to personal contacts while still carrying out his duties.

While he will stay at home and telework, Fauci will go to the White House if called and take every precaution, the institute said. He is the third member of the White House coronavirus task force to place themselves in self-quarantine in recent days.

Ghana COVID-19 cases on the increase with ease of lockdown

According to data obtained from the World Health Organisation, no fewer than 4,012 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Ghana.

The country witnessed increased cases of the virus after lifting a three-week lockdown in its two major cities on April 20.

President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana cited improved coronavirus testing and the “severe” impact of the restrictions on the poor and vulnerable for lifting the lockdown in the country.

Ghana became the country with the highest COVID-19 cases in West Africa after its total cases jumped by nearly 30 per cent in a single day.

The overall number of cases in Ghana rose to 4,012, including 18 deaths, from 3,091 on Thursday.

The country recorded 921 cases within 24 hours, barely 18 days after easing its lockdown.