Where did Mother’s Day come from?

In the 1850’s, Ann Reeves Jarvis organized Mother’s Day clubs whose goal was to improve infant mortality rates. By addressing poor sanitary conditions, they helped fight disease and milk contamination. During the Civil War, the clubs cared for wounded soldiers and improved health conditions in encampments on both sides of the conflict. After the war, Mother’s Day Friendship Day picnics were held to encourage women to get politically involved in promoting peace and to help unite families divided by the war.

When Ann Reeves Jarvis died in 1905, her daughter Anna Jarvis was inspired to organize a special day to honor one’s mother and to thank her own mother for all she had done. She is credited with the first observance of a Mother’s Day (in its present form) on May 10, 1908. Carnations have come to be associated with Mother’s Day because Anna Jarvis handed out hundreds of white carnations (her mother’s favorite flower) at the first celebration.

Mother’s Day is set aside as the second Sunday in May and was made an official U.S. national holiday on May 9, 1914 with a proclamation by President Woodrow Wilson. The proclamation directs the U.S. flag to be displayed on all government buildings and invites “...the people of the United States to display the flag at their homes or other suitable place...as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”

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