The Surprising Story of International Mother’s Day

Mother's Day story title card.

It’s almost time for International Mother‘s Day, which falls this year on Sunday May 13th.  Whilst this celebration on the second Sunday of May every year feels like an almost eternal tradition its inception only came about 100 years ago.

We take a look back at the surprising but short history of the celebration and examine how the event went from one woman’s crusade to an internationally recognised festivity celebrated in half of the world’s countries.

More than one Mother’s Day

First of all, it’s worth mentioning that the date on the second Sunday of May that we celebrate today isn’t the first celebration of Mothers around the world. For example Mothering Sunday (which is often known locally as Mother’s Day) has been celebrated in the UK and Ireland on the forth Sunday of Lent for centuries. However, International Mother’s Day the holiday celebrated in almost 100 countries has only existed for just over one hundred years.

Anna Jarvis: The mother of International Mother’s Day

Anna Jarvis is the woman who set the celebration in motion back in the early 1900s for the first time. She was inspired to create a day to commemorate mothers everywhere by her own mother, who had been a Sunday School teacher and expressed a desire for an official day of recognition for all the things mothers do for their children and society. After her mother’s death in 1905, Anna made it her goal to make that wish come true.

The very first Mother’s Day

In 1908 the first recorded observance of the holiday was held with modest memorial ceremony in Grafton, West Virginia in the church that Jarvis’s mother had taught in previously. Whilst Jarvis herself didn’t attend, she sent 500 white carnations (her mother’s favourite flower) to the ceremony in honour of the event.

Recognition by the US Congress

Jarvis since 1905 had embarked on a fervent letter writing campaign, thanks to this and the backing of industrialists like H.J. Heinz and John Wanamaker and organisations like the World’s Sunday School association Mother’s Day became a well known celebration. It was no surprise when in 1914 the US Congress officially passed a bill to have it nationally recognised across the whole nation.


Unfortunately for Anna Jarvis, this newfound popularity attracted a lot of commercial interest from businesses who were soon selling items like cards and confectionery to the public in large quantities. This angered Jarvis who felt that the profiteering took attention away from the sentimental purpose of the holiday. Sadly she was never able to reconcile herself with what Mother’s Day had become and later became a vocal activist against the celebration until her death in 1948.

How people celebrate Mother’s Day today

Whilst Jarvis was appalled by the development and growth of Mother’s Day, it continued to expand and many other countries have adopted the celebration on the date of the second Sunday of May. While it is common to send flowers, chocolates or cards, many people take the time out to honour and recognise their mothers – both living and dead – in order to make the day truly spectacular for her and give her the recognition she deserves.

How will you make Mother’s Day special this year?

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