Why Anna Jarvis, the Woman Who Started Mother’s Day, Tried to End the Celebration Years Later

Mother’s Day was created when, in 1908, Anna Jarvis invented the holiday as a gesture to honor her own mother. Her idea caught on quickly: By 1914, in large part because of a campaign Jarvis waged to have her celebration of motherhood more widely recognized, Congress gave the day status as an official national holiday. Companies, as they do, did their part to further institutionalize Mother’s Day, marketing flowers and candies and greeting cards as the proper ways to celebrate Mom.

Soon, Jarvis came to regret the holiday she had put on the American calendar. In 1920, she wrote a press release declaring florists and greeting card manufacturers to be “charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers, and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations.” And, as Nicole Russell wrote in The Atlantic in 2013, she “spent the rest of her life trying to abolish the holiday she founded.” This time, of course, Jarvis’s powers of persuasion failed her. Mother’s Day would remain—not just a Hallmark holiday, but a Teleflora one.

I thought of Jarvis when I saw, on Amazon, the section of that massive marketplace that is currently devoted to Mother’s Day. The section, backgrounded in pastel pink and decorated at the edges with origami roses rendered in muted corals, offers in one way pretty much the stuff you’d expect a Mother’s Day-devoted page to put on display: gadgets organized under headings like Food & Kitchen, Style, Spa Days, Creative Hobbies. Commercial goods that range from the practical to the whimsical and that are, all in all, pretty much the stuff of Jarvisian nightmare.

Amazon’s Mother’s Day offerings, however, contain a newer addition to the traditional gift selections: a section claiming to offer Empowering Keepsakes—“for the mom,” the section explains, “who loves feeling inspired.” Empowering Keepsakes links to items on offer at Amazon’s Girl Power and Sorry Not Sorry boutiques; through them, you can order Mom a hardcover copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, or a silver necklace with “fearless” etched in a pendant, or a Rosie the Riveter cuff bracelet, or a plastic iPhone cover scrawled with the intriguingly punctuated phrase “im not Bossy im The Boss,” or a mug printed with an all-caps reminder to “GET IT GIRL.” You can order your mother, basically, some cheerfully commercialized feminism.

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The Atlantic