GRAFTON, W.Va. — Flowers, cards, perfume, candy and dinners are Mother’s Day traditions to honor moms worldwide. The annual holiday has a special place in West Virginia, which calls itself the birthplace of Mother’s Day.
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The Mountaineer State? It’s true. And its creator would be appalled at how the holiday is now celebrated.
The first Mother’s Day celebration was held on May 10, 1908, in Taylor County, WBOY-TV reported. According to the West Virginia State Museum, Anna Jarvis, of Grafton, started the tradition to honor her late mother. Anna Reeves Jarvis died on May 9, 1905, in Philadelphia, according to online vital records.
The first Mother’s Day ceremony organized by Anna Jarvis was held at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, WBOY reported.
The tradition quickly caught fire. The Philadelphia Inquirer, in its May 20, 1908, edition, said that “between five million and six million people” celebrated the festival nationwide. A white carnation was worn to honor mothers nationwide, the newspaper reported.
“If in two weeks’ agitation, we could get the people so stirred up about Mother’s Day, what shall we accomplish next year?” Philadelphia organizers told the Inquirer.
In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a congressional resolution setting aside Mother’s Day as a national holiday to be celebrated on the second Sunday in May.
Andrews Church continued to hold Mother’s Day celebrations every year, and when the church eventually moved in 1966, the congregation still continued the tradition, WBOY reported.
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Anna Jarvis later became disillusioned with the holiday she worked to create, angered at the holiday’s commercialization.
“So, by 1912, she’s already mad at the floral industry,” Katharine Antolini, a history and gender studies professor at West Virginia Wesleyan University, told WVPB in 2021. “So it starts pretty quickly, because once the holiday starts to spread – – by 1912 it’s been recognized throughout the United States — of course, the floral industry is gonna jump on that. And so by then, she’s mad. She’s mad because they’re actually kind of claiming that was their day. The floral industry would have advertisements saying ‘this is our day.’
“By 1922, she’s leading boycotts for the floral industry. In 1923, there was a confectioner’s convention in Philadelphia and she crashes that convention to yell at them,” said Antolini, who wrote the book, “Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Struggle for Control of Mother’s Day.” “In 1925, she’s arrested for disorderly conduct for crashing another convention of charities who are trying to use the day, so yeah. She’s pretty passionate about her day.”
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Anna Jarvis continued to fight the commercialism until her death at the age of 84 on Nov. 24, 1948, in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
The International Mother’s Day Shrine stands at 11 East Main Street in Grafton, one of only 16 National Historic Landmarks in West Virginia, WBOY reported.
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