Mother’s Day Origins

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The popular version of the story of how Mother’s Day came to be a holiday in the United States of America is generally told like this:

In 1907 Ana Jarvis, from Philadelphia, began a campaign to establish a national Mother’s Day. Miss Jarvis persuaded her mother’s church in Grafton, West Virginia to celebrate Mother’s Day on the second anniversary of her mother’s death, the 2nd Sunday of May. By the next year Mother’s Day was also celebrated in Philadelphia. Miss Jarvis and her supporters began to write to ministers, businessman, and politicians in their quest to establish a national Mother’s Day. It was successful as by 1911 Mother’s Day was celebrated in almost every state. President Woodrow Wilson, in 1914, made the official announcement proclaiming Mother’s Day as a national holiday that was to be held each year on the 2nd Sunday of May.

What is always left out is the vital role which Camden played in the campaign which Miss Jarvis initiated. Dan McConnell‘s 1939 article for the Camden Courier-Post was entered into the Congressional Record by Senator Alben Barkley of Kentucky, who would later serve as Vice President under Harry Truman, from 1949 through 1953. The veracity of the matter is confirmed by the fact that Miss Jarvis wrote Senator Barkley to insist that the facts as Dan McConnell wrote them were the true and accurate account as the events which gave America Mother’s Day.

While it is true that Miss Jarvis organized the first Mother’s Day Association in Philadelphia, the first city to host an organized mass event was (you guessed it!) Camden NJ, on Sunday, May 12, 1907. Camden would continue to hold such events, which would grow larger in size and scope. The success of the Camden event gave impetus to Ms. Jarvis organization, which in short order grew into a national force. In May of 1914, the Congress of the United States formally acknowledged the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day. Miss Jarvis was later presented with the pen that President Woodrow Wilson used to sign the resolution.

Article Text

Mother’s Day

Extension of Remarks of Hon. Alben W. Barkley of Kentucky in the Senate of the United States

Wednesday, August 2, 1939

Article by Dan McConnell

Mr BARKLEY. Mr. President, some weeks ago I had inserted into the CONGRESSIONAL RECORDan article written by Mr. Earle W. Gage, of the State of New York, concerning the origin of Mother’s Day. I did not vouch for the accuracy of the statements contained in the article, but, at his request, I had the article inserted in the RECORD. That article attributed original sponsorship of Mother’s Day to a Kentucky lady. I have received protests from another lady, Miss Anna Jarvis, of New Jersey, who had some part, evidently, in the idea of originating Mother’s Day, and, at her request, I ask unanimous consent to insert in the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD an article by Dan MccConnell, which she has sent to me with respect to it. I repeat that I do not vouch for the statements in either article.

There being no Objection, the article was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

[From the Camden (N.J.) Courier-Post] | Mother’s Day (By Dan McConnell)

Mother’s Day, now a nationally observed occasion when we all pay tribute to the grandest and most-loved lady in our lives—mother—was honored in Camden.

This reporter vividly recalls when and how the observance of Mother’s Day had its New Jersey beginning.

The first Mother’s Day association in New Jersey was organized in our town and the former Camden Daily Courier played a most important part, sponsoring the movement to set aside the second Sunday in May to pay tribute to living mothers and to revere the memories of those dead.

Miss Anna Jarvis, the founder, requested newspaper officials to organize our first New Jersey association.

The late George A. Fry, former city treasurer, and publisher, was elected president, and Walter L. Tushingham, now vice president and business manager of the Courier-Post newspapers was named secretary.

This was the first New Jersey organization to conduct a city-wide observance of Mother’s Day.

On Sunday, May 12, Camden citizens, church members, and pastors, as well as civic and fraternal organizations, joined in the movement.

In a news story in the Daily Courier, Miss Jarvis said: “I hope Camden will take the lead in the State of New Jersey in having permanent Mother’s Day organizations formed throughout the State,” etc. The wishes of this grand lady were more than fulfilled.

First Observance was Gala Occasion

The first Mother’s Day observance in Camden was stated on Sunday. It was one of the most colorful and reverential occasions seen here in many years.

More than 110 fraternal and civic organizations turned out and attended church services on that epochal day.

Fifty volunteer bands furnished music for a massed street parade that formed at Fifth and Mickle Streets. Those who participated were assigned to attend church services at 37 churches.

A committee of citizens, members of the association, and city officials met Miss Jarvis and her party at Federal Street Ferry.

There were few “smart” automobiles in Camden those days, but the aggressive and more youthful Walter Tushingham borrowed a limousine owned by the late Charles A. Reynolds, a respected philanthropist and charity worker.

In the flag-bedecked car, Miss Jarvis and committee members began a triumphant tour through city streets, as thousands lined the sidewalks on Federal Street and Haddon Avenue.

As the car containing the founder rolled along, men, women, and children ran out to greet her, waving handkerchiefs and small American flags. It was, we believe, the happiest day of Miss Jarvis’ life.

Founder Made Tour of Camden Churches

On her eventful trip to Camden Miss Jarvis was escorted on a “flying squadron” tour of the churches. By arrangement with the pastors, the founder was escorted to and she spoke briefly in every one of the 37 churches where these special services were held.

In little more than 2 hours, approximately from 7 to 9:30 pm, Miss Jarvis covered the route of churches, starting with the First Methodist Episcopal Church and ending with Broadway Methodist Episcopal Church.

At the conclusion of an exhausting, eventful day, Miss Jarvis happily told members of the association’s committee that it “was the greatest day of my life.”

During her stay in Camden the founder of Mother’s Day was an honored guest of the Y.M.C.A. and friends.

Annually for years, the parade of fraternities to churches on Mother’s Day was continued under direction of the Daily Courier.

Miss Jarvis formed similar associations in other cities and countries.

The movement spread rapidly.

The first association was formed in Philadelphia headquarters.

However Camden was the first city to hold a massed observance of Mother’s Day.

In 1938 a great historical Catholic field mass had celebrants from New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Congress Recognized Founder’s Request

Miss Jarvis continued her efforts over years to have the second Sunday in May annually an American flag day, so the flag would be displayed yearly on Mother’s Day in honor of American homes, mothers, and other patriotic women and home folks.

Finally, May 8, 1914, historical recognition was given to her Mother’s Day flag resolution, through its passage by the Congress.

Already she had Mother’s Day celebrated around the world, or the resolution would not have been passed. At the time of the passage of the Mother’s Day flag resolution, Miss Jarvis was a guest in the House of Representatives gallery.

Later she was given the signature pen used by the President in signing the resolution, and also was given a facsimile official copy of the resolution.

It is alleged Anna Jarvis, founder of Mother’s Day, is the first woman to have established a national flag day in honor of homes and patriot women.

Miss Jarvis’ work for the American flag has been active, specific, unceasing, and constructive on original lines.

The Camden Y.M.C.A. presented her with a large American silk flag following the first Camden pageant, and other presentation flags have been given her.

Guest of City of Boston

Anna Jarvis was the first woman to be the guest of Boston for her personal achievement.

She was entertained over the week end in an honored, official way.

She was escorted to the mayor’s offices and presented with a golden, encased key to the city of Boston; also was given official portrait of the mayor and bound volume of history of Boston.

On Sunday an official reception by the city was given to her, followed by a large parade to the common.

There a mass meeting of thousands of men, women, and children was held under leading State, city, and patriotic officials.

Those of us who have been so blessed by having our mother with us should remember her on Mother’s Day.

Visit your mother with token of your love and respect—no matter how small the gift.

Godl bless you, Anna Jarvis, for your work in establishing one of the happiest periods of the year—Mother’s Day.

It must be a source of joy and satisfaction for Miss Jarvis to know that through her pioneering efforts the Mother’s Day movement has spread to all parts of the world, even into Asia and Africa.

Once in paying tribute to the founder, Miss Jarvis, the late John Wanamaker, United States Postmaster General, said:

“I would rather be the accepted author of Mother’s Day than to be the King of England.”


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