Mother's Day is one of the most beloved holidays of all time, but history has it that the early celebrations left its founder broke. Ironically, it wasn't because of spending large sums of money to promote it.
Instead, Anna Jarvis of Grafton used up her inheritance to try and stop it.
After her beloved mother's death in 1905, Anna led an impassioned crusade for a day to honor all mothers, eventually devoting herself exclusively to the cause.
She and supporters wrote thousands of letters to businessmen, politicians and clergymen, asking their help in establishing the holiday. Finally, in 1908, the first official Mother's Day celebrations were held in West Virginia and in Philadelphia, where Jarvis' mother was buried. Six years later, President Woodrow Wilson declared Mother's Day a national holiday, which would be observed annually on the second Sunday of May.
Anna's crusade had been successful. The entire nation was celebrating a day devoted to mothers, just as she wanted.
Well, not quite.
As years passed, she saw the day quickly become tainted by commercialization.
Pricey greeting cards were replacing special handwritten notes; white carnations she had designated as the official Mother's Day flower were being sold for profit.
"She became so tired of what had been done to Mother's Day that she went to the candy, florist and card businesses and asked them to at least give some of the profits to the poor farm. But they wouldn't hear of it," said Olive Crow, co-founder with Tom Dadisman of the Mother's Day Birthplace Museum in Webster, just outside of Grafton.
Jarvis reportedly went so far as to file a lawsuit to stop a Mother's Day festival and later was arrested for disturbing the peace at a Mother's Day convention.
"She just hated what was happening," says Betty Hayhurst, director of the International Mother's Day Shrine in Grafton.
"I think if she knew how bad it has really gotten now, she'd turn over in her grave," Hayhurst says.
Until her death in 1948, it was well-known that Anna Jarvis was still fighting the commercialization of Mother's Day. However, different theories exist concerning her last years.
According to Crow, Jarvis decided to take a petition and go door-to-door, seeking support to rescind the holiday.
"Instead, she was placed in a sanitarium in Philadelphia because she was wandering the streets. We checked the sanitarium records and they said Anna was placed there by friends, but there were no names. But the monthly bill was paid by a greeting card company and a florist association," Crow says.
Hayhurst doesn't agree with that scenario.
"She had a brother who lived in Philadelphia and her mother was buried there. She moved there and continued her fight against Mother's Day. Her father had left the family a lot of money, but she was using it up for the cause. Had it not been for Anna's friends, she would have died a pauper. Toward the end of her life, they helped her a lot. I don't think there was anything mentally wrong with her," Hayhurst says.
Marion Strode, librarian at the Chester County Historical Society in West Chester, Pa., where the Marshall Square Sanitarium once stood, cited newspaper articles that said Jarvis was indeed a patient at the sanitarium.
"But in those days, a sanitarium could be the same as a hospital. The articles say Miss Jarvis was blind, deaf and bed-ridden and unable to care for herself. They also say she had exhausted her financial means.
"She spent the last five years of her life there and died when she was 84. But I think she was probably still competent and her mind was still good up until she died," Strode says.
For more information on Mother's Day and special activities planned, contact the International Mother's Day Shrine, 265-1589, or the Anna Jarvis Birthplace Museum, 265-5549.
Staff writer Pam Marra can be reached at 626-1439.