Commemorations to honor mothers and motherhood have been happening for centuries and can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans who paid homage to their mother goddesses. Today, tributes to mothers occur all around the world at different times of the year, but the American version of Mother's Day was started in May of 1908 by a woman named Anna Jarvis.
After her own mother died, Jarvis believed a special day should be established to honor the sacrifices mothers make for their children. She began a letter-writing campaign, contacting the press and politicians alike, to ask for their support to create a national day to celebrate mothers, while also expressing that American holidays were too much focused on men’s achievements.
After attracting the attention and backing of John Wanamaker, owner of Wanamaker’s department stores, Jarvis organized the first official Mother’s Day observance at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia on May 10, 1908. Attendees wore white carnations, which was apparently the favorite flower of Jarvis’ mother, and became the first flower associated with Mother’s Day.
Four years later, many towns, cities and even states had followed Jarvis’ lead and had established Mother’s Day as a holiday. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson officially established the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day in the United States.
Anna Jarvis had originally wanted Mother’s Day to be one of private celebrations between mothers and families. But when Mother’s Day became a national holiday, card companies, confectioners, and other businesses realized its potential for profitability. In fact, the floral industry started raising prices on white carnations. Jarvis quickly became disillusioned with how commercial Mother's Day had become, and just a few years later, began openly criticizing how the holiday had been exploited and even advised people to stop buying flowers, cards and candy to celebrate Mother’s Day.
However, those traditions of celebrating mothers continue on in the United States today. In fact, Mother’s Day has become one of the biggest holidays for consumer purchases. Mother's Day spending regularly tops $20 billion each year, according to the National Retail Federation. Over ¾ of Americans plan to send their mothers or grandmothers greeting cards this year, making Mother’s Day the third most popular card-sending holiday behind Christmas and Valentine's Day.