Since the 1870s, when pacifist Julia Ward Howe campaigned for a holiday called Mother's Peace Day, there had been several calls for a holiday that commemorates mothers. But none of those attempts stuck until 1907: Anna Jarvis, of Grafton, West Virginia, staged a personal, private celebration for her mother who had died two years earlier. She later explained that this was a tribute to the sacrifices her mother made to raise her.
With help and funding from department store mogul John Wanamaker, Jarvis held the first public Mother's Day the following year in Grafton's Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church, which would later be named the International Mother's Day Shrine. Celebrations continued to spread across the country. Finally, in 1914, then-President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it a national holiday, dedicating the second Sunday in May every year to "the mothers of our country."
If that's how the story of Jarvis' Mother's Day ended, it'd be lovely: A woman fights for a day to honor mothers across the country and wins. But, sadly, Mother's Day did not remain the humble celebration that Jarvis imagined.
Olive Ricketts, the director of the Anna Jarvis Museum in Grafton, West Virginia, told NPR that Jarvis eventually soured on Mother's Day. By the 1940s, the holiday was so commercialized that Jarvis believed it had lost its founding spirit.
She even fought to repeal it as a national holiday. But, before she could make much progress, she was sent to live (and eventually die) in a sanitarium. According to Ricketts, the "card and florist people paid the bill to keep her there."
If you feel conflicted about continuing to celebrate Mother's Day now that you know the founder regretted its mainstream success, we understand. Luckily, there are plenty of other less commercialized reasons to make May all about mom: Thanks to the Pagan sabbat Beltane, this time of year has long been associated with the divine feminine and the maternal spirit of nature. So, feel free to celebrate the mother figures in your life in whatever way makes sense for you (and said mother figures). And a homemade card is a great substitute for a pricey bouquet, anyway.
That said, if your mom is already expecting to have something she can unwrap this Sunday, we've got a few suggestions for the perfect gift.