The Untold Origins Of Mother’s Day Are Much Wilder Than People Would Suspect

This Mother’s Day, as you’re sealing the envelope on a sentimental greeting card or pulling mom’s chair back at the brunch table, keep in mind that this holiday didn’t always exist. Honoring moms is a no-brainer, and thanks to the efforts of some motivated mama’s girls (and a few boys, too), Americans have an official day to stop and express our gratitude to the women that keep the world spinning.

But for a holiday devoted to children celebrating mothers, there was more drama involved in its inception than you’d probably think. It wasn’t always flowers, chocolates, and big hugs. In fact, the battle for the title of Mother’s Day Creator was, at times, downright nasty…

Anna Jarvis was a mama’s girl through and through. She admired her vocal, progressive mother, Ann Reeves, and followed in her political footsteps. Initially, the spark of creating a holiday honoring maternal figures was an idea Anna took from her mom.

Smithsonian Mag

So, emboldened by the memory of her late mother, who had succumbed to illness three years prior, Anna planned a memorial to honor not just her own mama, but all the special moms out there. May 10, 1908, marked the first official observance of International Mother’s Day.

Life with 4 Boys

Signing it in ink, President Woodrow Wilson marked Mother’s Day a national holiday. Occurring the second Sunday of May, all across the U.S families gather to celebrate the maternal figures in their lives and give them deserved recognition.

Good Housekeeping

Even though President Wilson gave Anna credit for kickstarting Mother’s Day, not everyone else was ready to bestow her the title of “creator.” Anna put up her dukes, ready to fight for the right to be called the Mother’s Day Matriarch.

Paul Hehn / Flickr

The first rebuttal to Anna’s claim to the holiday was a fellow social activist and author, Julia Ward Howe. Back in 1872, Julia called for Mothers’ Peace Day, a suffragette effort asking women to gather in public spaces to call for peace in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Mass Moments

Julia’s pacifist efforts to unite the forces of womanhood were ultimately unsuccessful. Though up until 1913, every June 2nd, Julia’s chosen day for the event, many cities still saw large throngs of suffragettes congregating for this variation of Mother’s Day.

Popular Resistance

The other unlikely individual posing a threat to Anna Jarvis’ Mother’s Day crown, was, of all things, a football coach. Frank Hering, the very first football coach at the University of Notre Dame, spoke up in a meeting of his chapter of the Fraternal Order of the Eagles.

Contrary to his two holiday-proposing peers, Frank didn’t have a date for the festivities. He came up with the idea before Anna Jarvis though, in 1904. In his own words, he proposed, “setting aside of one day in the year as a national memorial to the memory of mothers and motherhood.”


The idea of Frank usurping her title, and a man taking credit for a celebration rooted in uplifting women, made Anna Jarvis quake in fury. The tenacious advocate refused to back down. In the 1920s she clarified her opinions in a notice titled, “Kidnapping Mother’s Day: Will You Be an Accomplice?”

International Mother’s Day Shrine

Anna let loose with her true feelings about Frank Hering‘s intentions to undermine her, “making a desperate effort to snatch from me the rightful title of originator and founder of Mother’s Day, established by me after decades of untold labor, time, and expense.”

According to historian Katharine Antolini of Wesleyan College, Anna Jarvis’ fierce claim over Mother’s Day was ego fueled. Anna seemed to spike down even positive contributions to the efforts of the holiday.

In another presidential effort to pay tribute to mothers, Franklin D. Roosevelt sat at his desk and scrawled out a design for a postage stamp in 1934. He intended to commemorate Mother’s Day by featuring the renowned painting “Whistler’s Mother.”

Linn’s Stamp News

As you may have guessed, Anna Jarvis was not a huge fan of the stamp design. She point-blank forbade the words “Mother’s Day” from being published on the stamps, calling their appearance ugly.


If Anna Jarvis was alive today, she would be tormented by the commercialization of her pride-and-joy holiday. We know this because she battled anyone attempting to profit off of the event, even those trying to raise funds for worthy causes.


Katharine Antolini explained, “She resented the idea that profiteers would use the day as just another way of making money.” Back in the early 1900s, charities were not verifiable, so Anna had no way of trusting the money raised in the name of Mother’s Day would reach the people in need.

Her stance was firm, but Anna Jarvis practiced what she preached. Never once did she accept a profit in the name of Mother’s Day — and she could have countless times. Really, she took the opposite path…

CBC Radio Canada

All her finances were squandered attempting to root out the virus of commercialization of Mother’s Day. Sadly, the advocate’s mental health began to crumble in her elder years. She never stopped fighting the powers that be, but she spent her last four years of life committed in a sanitarium.

Find A Grave

As Anna Jarvis’ feared, the commercialization of Mother’s Day has become a booming industry. With greeting cards and floral arrangements, it’s become common practice to treat mom to these traditional creature comforts. In 2018, spending reached $23 billion.

Rambling Bog

After scrambling in the card aisle and leaving the florist, over half of Americans spend Mother’s Day gathered with family around a crowded brunch table. According to data from the National Restaurant Association, Mother’s Day is the biggest dining out night each year.


Mother’s Day may have veered off track from Anna Jarvis’ intentions, but one original detail still carries through: the official flower of the holiday remains the favorite of Anna’s beloved mother Ann — the white carnation.


Explaining the significance of the flower in an interview, Anna said, “The carnation does not drop its petals but hugs them to its heart as it dies, and so, too, mothers hug their children to their hearts, their mother love never dying.” 

SFOPanda / Flickr

Luckily, the vicious ego-fueled entanglements are not what people remember when it comes to Mother’s Day. Though it does make you curious about what other American historical secrets have been hiding in plain sight — and we have the details on that, too!

Bambi / Flickr

1. Washington, D.C. Wasn’t Always Our Capital: Our first was Philadelphia, and we jumped around a lot after that. The list of capital locations includes Baltimore, New York City, Trenton, and even Annapolis in Maryland. 

2. Witches Weren’t Burned On The Stake: Salem witches weren’t really set on fire. Instead, they were stoned or drowned, which gave them the chance to prove their magic powers by saving themselves. This never happened.

3. Walt Disney Didn’t Draw Mickey Mouse: Disney’s most famous character is definitely Mickey Mouse. And while the Mickster was Walt Disney’s idea, we actually have Ub Iwerks to thank for designing and drawing this childhood icon from ears to toes.

4. Disney’s Head Isn’t Frozen: Also, stop spreading the rumor Walt Disney had himself cryogenically frozen! He was actually cremated, his ashes spread in a lake. Still, it would have been cool if his ashes remained in the castle of sleeping beauty. Maybe then he’d wake up after a couple of years anyway.

5. The Declaration of Independence wasn’t signed on the Fourth of July:  Continental Congress voted and drafted it on the 2nd of July, revised it on the 4th, and it was read aloud on the 8th. The final document wasn’t signed until August 2nd. Hold the fireworks!

6. The First Car Was NOT American: As much as we’d like to claim this success with Ford’s Model T, German engineer Karl Benz was almost a century ahead, creating horseless carriages and patenting the first automobile in the 19th century. 

7. Pocahontas Didn’t Love John Smith: Why on earth would Pocahontas fall in love with John Smith after he and his people invaded her land and disrespected her people? She didn’t. Pocahontas, or actually Matoaka, only saved John’s life because she wanted to preserve peace.

8. Thanksgiving Wasn’t A Celebration: Some experts suggest the pilgrims showed up on the Native Americans’ teepee steps because they figured they’d all be sick or dead from a plague, so it’d be easy to steal their food!

9. Thomas Edison Didn’t “Invent” Electricity: The only things he invented were stories, taking the findings of true inventors and patenting them. The alternating current electricity supply system was Nikola Tesla’s and the light bulb was Warren De La Rue’s.

10. Abraham Lincoln Wasn’t Thinking About Slaves: He did bring us the Emancipation Proclamation, but he didn’t do it out of the warmth of his heart. His focus was to save the Union no matter what happened to slaves; it just so happened that freeing them was the answer.

11.  Albert Einstein Was Bad At Math: The genius was rumored to be bad at math when he was a schoolboy. Contrarily, by the age of 15, he had mastered differential and integral calculus — so get your A-game on and don’t use Einstein as an excuse!

12. Feminists Don’t Burn Their Bras: There was one protest in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where bras, girdles, and high heels were burned, but that was pretty much the end of that.

13. Charles Lindbergh Isn’t A Hero: Not only was he not the first to cross the transatlantic in an airplane (that was done eight years earlier, in 1919, by British aviators Alcock and Brown), but he was also a Nazi-sympathizer. 

14. The Wild West Wasn’t That Wild: You were probably led to believe that the Wild West was nothing but bank robberies and towns not big enough for two tough cowboys. The good: there were only 12 robberies during that era. The bad: gun violence has increased by over 100,000% since then. The ugly: spurs on your boots.

15. Cowboys Didn’t Wear Cowboy Hats: Those cowboy boots you find at Payless may have been based on historical fashion, but those giant hats you find at costume stores certainly aren’t. These bad boys opted for Bowler hats instead. 

16.  Jonathan Appleseed Was Real: …Although his last name was actually Chapman. He was a pioneer nurseryman who introduced apple trees to large parts of the Midwest and the East coast. If you love picking apples in the fall, be grateful to Johnny Chapman!

17. Columbus Didn’t Discover America: Columbus mistook America for India, and the first person responsible for “discovering” the land was Leif Erikson, who hopped off the boat in the 10th century. Secondly, Columbus only landed in South/Central America.

18. Pirates Haven’t Been Around For A Long Time: Most people guess pirates were only around until the 18th century, but they were blowing holes in ships, looting cities, and keelhauling people well into the 19th. One of the last pirates was captured in 1832.

19. It Is NOT Illegal To Burn The American Flag:… depending on the situation. While the act is considered radical, you are allowed to burn the flag under the First Amendment, which protects the freedom of speech.

20. George Washington Was Not Our First President: He was our first elected president, but 14 other people before him had ruled the country under that title. Surely it wasn’t George who created this myth though; after all, he cannot tell a lie.

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