Spoiler alert: Mother’s Day is a made up holiday.

It’s the creation of one grateful daughter in celebration of her own special mother and when you learn who this mother was and what she did, you’re going to slap your forehead and wonder how it’s possible you didn’t know about her before!

Anne Marie Reeves Jarvis was a small-town mother, Sunday school teacher and “community activist” in 1860’s Virginia, long before the term had been coined. One of her initiatives was the creation of something she called Mother’s Day Work Clubs; club members went door to door teaching hygiene and wellness to the poor families of Appalachia in an effort to reduce the terrible rates of infant mortality. Ann Marie was no stranger to that kind of tragedy herself, eventually losing 8 of her 12 children to common diseases. 

When the Civil War broke out and she found herself living in the newly separated state of West Virginia, she re-tooled her clubs to provide medical care to wounded soldiers, insisting that both Union and Confederate soldiers be cared for. Try to imagine how radical this must have seemed at the time! This little-known Civil War heroine was determined to remain neutral and after the was was over, she was asked by local officials to do something to soothe the lingering hard feelings after so much bloodshed and loss.

She led the planning of a “Mothers Friendship Day” in 1868, a healing gathering for soldiers and their families. Despite fears of violence from aggrieved soldiers, she persisted in her deep belief that mothers are mothers; the loss of their sons and husbands and communities would bind them together if given the chance.

Here’s what wikipedia has to say about that day:

She shared with the veterans a message of unity and reconciliation. Bands played “Dixie” and the “Star Spangled Banner” and the event ended with everyone, north and south, joining together to sing “Auld Lang Syne.” This effective and emotional event reduced many to tears. It showed the community that old animosities were destructive and must end. Ann Jarvis – Wikipedia

Couldn’t we all use a little Ann Marie Jarvis today?

She’s not the only woman we need to thank for Mother’s Day. Julia Ward Howe, known as the author of The Battle Hymn Of The Republic, inhabited an entirely different arena of influence. A socialite and celebrity, she travelled the world advocating for women’s rights, universal education and peace. She proposed an annual “Mother’s Day”; an opportunity for women from all over the world to meet and plan out a roadmap for world peace. Can you just imagine? Maybe it’s time to revisit her idea!

The Mother’s Day we know today was the inspiration of Anna Jarvis, daughter of Ann Marie Jarvis. Two years after her mother passed away on the second Sunday of May (1905), Anna Jarvis held a small memorial service in Ann Marie’s hometown of Grafton, W.Va. The attendees all received a white carnation, which had been Ann Marie’s favourite flower. What Anna most wanted was for this holiday to become a personal celebration of one’s own mother, an annual acknowledgement of everything she had done for you. The second Sunday in May was finally etched into the records, in the U.S at least, by Woodrow Wilson in 1914.

It wasn’t long before commercial interests took advantage of the obvious potential of this sentimental occasion. The entire greeting card industry pretty much grew out of this one annual event. Florists went completely berserk; the price of white carnations increased from half a cent each in 1908 to a dollar apiece by 1920. 

Anna was livid. She hired lawyers to copyright the name “Mother’s Day”, insisting on the individual spelling – it was supposed to be a special day for each mother, not for mothers in general! You were encouraged to go and visit your mother, wherever she was, and that custom was widely observed for many years. Anna became more and more militant in defence of a quiet, personal celebration of mom, eventually crashing a convention of the ‘War Mothers of America’ in Philadelphia when she heard they were planning a large Mother’s Day celebration.  She was arrested and jailed, but the celebration was indeed cancelled. I think her own mother would have been quite proud of her!

So ladies, what’s with all the sitting around waiting for the cards and flowers to arrive? Let’s do these women proud and make something special of Mother’s Day. 

I propose that the warring tribes of biological moms and step mothers could be a great place to focus our healing energy. Let’s remind ourselves that nothing matters more than raising the next generation of decent human beings. Let us commit to working together and to heal our own wounds so we can show up as the adults our children need us to be.  Let’s vow to be better advocates for the rights of parents all over the world to give their children a life of dignity and good health.

Happy Mother’s Day, one and all.


  • Tracy Poizner

    Parenting Coach and Stepmom Mentor

    Essential Stepmom

    Tracy Poizner is the host of the weekly Essential Stepmom podcast, heard in 58 countries worldwide, where she offers unconventional advice and inspiration for The Womanly Art of Raising Someone Else's Kids. Having been a mom/stepmom for 14 years and an alternative healthcare professional for over 20 years, she has a special perspective on blended family dynamics, emotional healing and how stepmoms, bio parents and kids can get their own important needs met in the everyday chaos of this challenging lifestyle. Tracy's blog is available at her website, essentialstepmom.com.