In Webster, Taylor County, West Virginia, Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis (1832 – 1905), a social activist, led a women’s group that celebrated an adaptation of Julia Ward Howe’s holiday. She and her daughter Anna Marie Jarvis (1864 – 1948), are now recognized as the founders of the Mother’s Day holiday in the United States.
Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis was born in Culpeper, Virginia, on September 30, 1832, to Rev. Josiah Washington Reeves and his wife, Nancy Kemper Reeves. The family moved to Barbour County in present-day West Virginia when the Rev. Reeves got transferred to a Methodist church in Philippi. In 1850, Ann married Granville E. Jarvis, the son of a Philippi Baptist minister. Two years later, Granville and Ann Jarvis moved to nearby Webster in Taylor County.
In the 1850s, Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis lost eight of her 11 children before they reached the age of seven due to poor health conditions in the area. With the help of her brother, Dr James E. Reeves, she organized “Mother’s Friendship Clubs” in Webster, Grafton, Fetterman, Pruntytown, and Philippi, to improve health and sanitary conditions.
Thousands of women learned nursing and proper sanitation. Among other services, the clubs raised money for medicine, hired women to work for families in which the mothers suffered from tuberculosis, and inspected bottled milk and food. In 1860, local doctors helped to form Mother’s Friendship Club in other towns.
During the American Civil War, this noble woman urged the Mother’s Friendship Clubs to declare their neutrality and give relief to both Union and Confederate soldiers. The Club members nursed and cared for soldiers on both sides of the conflict.
Following the end of the war, she called on her club members to help mend the wounds of the war by reuniting the Union and Confederate families who fought on opposing sides by holding a “Mother’s Friendship Day.”
The Andrews Methodist Church built at Grafton, West Virginia and dedicated in 1873 was built under her husband’s leadership. Ann Maria Jarvis’ life revolved around the church. She taught Sunday School at the church for more than 20 years. After her husband’s death in 1902, Ann moved to Philadelphia to live with her son Claude and daughters Anna and Lillian.
Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis died on May 9, 1905, in Bala Cynwyd, in southeastern Pennsylvania, bordering the western edge of Philadelphia.
After Ann Maria Reeves Reeves’ death, her daughter Anna Marie Jarvis, began a campaign to make “Mother’s Day” a recognized holiday in the United States to honour her mother’s wish that there be a day set aside to honour all mothers.
In 1908, Anna Marie petitioned the superintendent of the church where her mother had spent over 20 years teaching Sunday School to hold a memorial service to honour her mother who died three years before. Her request was accepted, and on May 10, 1908, the first official Mother’s Day celebration took place at Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia, and at a church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The event in Grafton drew a congregation of 407. Anna Jarvis had arranged for her mother’s favourite flower – white carnations. Two carnations were given to every mother in attendance.
At present times, people use white carnations to pay tribute to deceased mothers, and pink or red carnations to honour living mothers.
In 1912 West Virginia was the first state to officially recognize Mother’s Day.
On May 8, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson, a friend of Anna Marie Jarvis, signed a Congressional Resolution setting the second Sunday in May as a national holiday to celebrate Mother’s Day.
Soon, other countries too adopted Mother’s Day of Anna Marie Jarvis.
However, by the 1920s, Anna Marie Jarvis felt disappointed with the commercialization of Mother’s Day.