The founder of Mother’s Day wouldn’t have wanted you to buy those flowers for mom. Or that card. Or those chocolates. In all likelihood, she wouldn’t have wanted you to celebrate the holiday at all.
The fact that we will collectively spend roughly $25 billion on moms this year probably would have caused Anna Jarvis, the founder of what we now call Mother’s Day, to throw her lunch on the floor like she reportedly did in the early 1900s, when she found out that a department store in Philadelphia was offering a Mother’s Day special.
Jarvis ― a West Virginia woman without children of her own ― riffed on Julia Ward Howe’s idea for a “Mothers’ Peace Day” when she organized a small celebration of her own mother’s life at a Methodist church in 1908. Annoyed that most American holidays were dedicated to honoring male achievements, Jarvis started a letter-writing campaign to make it a national holiday, complete with white carnations, a visit to good ole mom and maybe church.
Her campaign worked, but not in the way she hoped: She never wanted Mother’s Day to be the commercial holiday it quickly came to be. (Perhaps she should have thought twice about getting financing for the first celebration from the owner of Wanamaker’s, a major department store at the time.)
Soon after Congress made Mother’s Day an official holiday in 1914, Jarvis started actively campaigning against it, leveling harsh criticism against florists, candy makers, greeting card companies and anyone else looking to make a buck off the holiday.
A 1924 story published in the Miami Daily News and Metropolis detailed Jarvis’s distaste for what Mother’s Day had become. It pretty much comes down to this:
“Commercialization of Mother’s Day is growing every year,” says she. “Since the movement has spread to all parts of the world, many things have tried to attach themselves because of its success.”
Florists are the worst.
“The red carnation has no connection with Mother’s Day. Yet florists have spread the idea that it should be worn for mother who has passed away. This has boosted the sale of red carnations.”
Candy makers are also the worst.
“Confectioners put a white ribbon on a box of candy and advance the price just because it’s Mother’s Day,” she charges. “There is no connection between candy and this day. It is pure commercialization.”
Greeting card makers are terrible (as are lazy kids who just send pre-written cards):
“The sending of a wire is not sufficient. Write a letter to your mother. No person is too busy to do this. Any mother would rather have a line of the worst scribble from her son or daughter than any fancy greeting card or telegram.”
So there you have it. Straight from the founder of Mother’s Day herself.