|By Barbara Miller Beem
Baseball, hotdogs, motherhood and apple pie. “’M’ is for the many things she gave me.” Whistler’s Mother. Mom, Mommy, Mama.
The Greeting Card Association reports that the second Sunday in May is the third largest card-sending holiday in the United States, with some 113 million Mother’s Day cards exchanged annually. The Society of American Florists notes that one-fourth of flower and plant purchases made at holiday times are linked to Mother’s Day. And according to the National Restaurant Association, that same day is the busiest one of the year.
Although Mother’s Day is widely celebrated in America (and has helped to spawn other national holidays, including Father’s Day and Grandparents’ Day), the tradition is little more than 100 years old. Over the years, the idea of a holiday to honor mothers was fielded by noted persons such as Juliet Ward Howe (lyricist of The Battle Hymn of the Republic) and Frank E. Hering, a former football coach and faculty member at the University of Notre Dame (and often called “The Father of Mother’s Day”). Both tried to establish a holiday, but with no lasting success.
But one woman’s dogged efforts proved otherwise. Anna Marie Jarvis, born in 1864 in Webster, W.Va., was a devoted daughter, although herself unmarried and childless. After her mother’s death in 1905, Jarvis spearheaded what would become a three-year campaign to honor her memory. Subsequently, a service was held on May 10, 1908, at Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, W.Va., where the honorée had taught Sunday School. Jarvis, living in Pennsylvania at the time, did not go home but instead marked the day at a service in celebration of mothers held in Philadelphia’s Wannamaker Auditorium.
Within the next two years, similar ceremonies were held around the country. But the notion of officially designating a day to honor everyone’s mother was not taken seriously. Although the United States Congress considered adopting a measure to establish the holiday, lawmakers joked that this might lead to a Mother-in-Law Day; therefore, the proposal to make Mother’s Day an official holiday was rejected. (It should be noted that the idea of Mother-in-Law Day was rejuvenated in the mid-1970s, and although some continue to push for a day to honor the mother of one’s spouse, to this date, it has not caught on in a major way.)
Throughout this time, Jarvis’ home state of West Virginia continued to stand by her, and on April 26, 1910 Gov. William E. Glasscock issued a proclamation declaring the second Sunday in May be marked as Mother’s Day. Jarvis continued her crusade, and four years later, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a similar proclamation.
Sad to say, this victory turned out to be a hollow one for Jarvis, who witnessed the new holiday’s transformation into a celebration more commercial than what she had originally imagined. She came to regret her founding of Mother’s Day, and she reversed herself, expending an equal amount of energy to attempt to repeal it. Eschewing elaborate floral arrangements, greeting cards, and chocolates, however, she continued to honor her own mother with white carnations, a simple tradition that has held true over the years. Ironically, although Jarvis had, in her lifetime, set off a tradition on which many have successfully capitalized, she died penniless in 1948.
Although not as popular as Halloween and Christmas collectibles, objects with the words “Mom” or “Mother,” as well as sundry feminine things, hold much appeal to collectors. And no small part of this interest is due, not just to sentimentality, but to the fact that these remembrances reflect women’s changing roles in the past century.
Shortly after Mother’s Day was officially recognized, America entered into World War I. “Sweetheart jewelry” became a popular way for those serving and those at home to keep in touch. Not surprisingly, some of these vintage pieces simply bear the word “Mother.” With the start of World War II, the tradition of mother-related jewelry and other souvenir pieces continued.
Some of the earliest Mother’s Days were commemorated with postcards, not only those used as greetings but also as invitations to church services commemorating the new holiday (some promising a “special sermon”). Illustrations on these early cards often include images of mothers and babies, as well as matronly looking women in rocking chairs (often knitting). Others bear pictures of carnations, symbolic because they were Ann Jarvis’ favorite flower: white in memory of mothers who are deceased, and pink and red carnations in honor of those still living.
Greeting cards followed.Hallmark began producing Mother’s Day cards in the early 1920s, with the first examples hand colored rather than printed. “Typical of the era, designs depicted mothers in bustles and shawls and picking flowers or preparing dinner,” according to Hallmark historian Samantha Bradbeer. By the 1960s, humorous cards with bright colors and images of “mod” Moms were offered alongside the traditional ones with flowery illustrations and thoughtful sentiments.
With a renewed interest in collecting at the time of the country’s Bicentennial came a surge in the production of dated gift wares. Originally intended for collecting or giving, these dated collectibles include plates, bells, and thimbles. And, according to Julie Robbins of Replacements, Ltd., they continue to be charming gifts, especially in light of the fact that many of these mother-related items are now in the vintage category. Sentimental in nature, they often depict a romanticized view of family life; for instance, enduring images of Norman Rockwell’s, including A Mother’s Love, After the Party and Cooking Lesson, are featured on Mother’s Day plates. Among Robbins’ favorites, though, are wares by “several manufacturers, such as Bing & Grondahl, Royal Copenhagen and Wedgwood,” each of which “produced a series of highly collectible, dated Mother’s Day plates.” Those families portrayed are not limited to humans, she added. “The charming animals depicted on the Bing & Grondahl series are irresistible.” One strategy might be to select a plate produced for a year that has particular meaning.
And for those hoping to make the ultimate Mother’s Day pilgrimage, the International Mother’s Day Shrine welcomes guests from May to the end of September. Established on May 15, 1962, the shrine marks where it all started: the 1873 Andrew Methodist Church in Grafton, the place that meant so much to Ann Jarvis.
Many remain grateful that this determined woman failed to undo that for which she will be forever remembered.