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Meet Anna Jarvis The Woman Who Created Mother’s Day

Meet Anna Jarvis The Woman Who Created Mother's Day
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The woman responsible for the creation of Mother’s Day, marked in many countries on the second Sunday in May, would have approved of the modest celebrations likely to take place this year. The commercialisation of the day horrified her – to the extent that she even campaigned to have it rescinded.

When Elizabeth Burr received a phone call a few days ago from someone asking about her family history, she initially thought she had been scammed. “I thought, ‘OK, my identity has been stolen, I’ll never see my money again,'” she says. 

In fact the call came from a family history researcher looking for living relatives of Anna Jarvis, the woman who founded Mother’s Day in the US over a century ago.

Anna Jarvis was one of 13 children, only four of whom lived to adulthood. Her older brother was the only one to have children of his own, but many died young from tuberculosis and his last direct descendant died in the 1980s.

So Elisabeth Zetland of MyHeritage decided to look for first cousins, and that was what led her to Elizabeth Burr. 

When Elizabeth had been reassured that her savings were safe, she gave MyHeritage the surprising news that her father and aunts hadn’t celebrated Mother’s Day when they were growing up – out of respect for Anna, and her feeling that her idea had been hijacked by commercial interests and debased.

Meet Anna Jarvis The Woman Who Created Mother's Day
Credit: Getty image

Anna Jarvis’s campaign for a special day to celebrate mothers was one she inherited from her own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis. 

Mrs Jarvis had spent her life mobilising mothers to care for their children, says historian Katharine Antolini, and she wanted mothers’ work to be recognised. “I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mothers’ day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it,” Mrs Jarvis said.

She was very active in the Methodist Episcopal Church, where, from 1858, she ran Mothers’ Day Work Clubs to combat high infant and child mortality rates, mostly due to diseases that ravaged their community in Grafton, West Virginia.

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