Mother’s Day is a holiday honoring motherhood that is observed in different forms throughout the world, and Mother’s Day 2019 occurs on Sunday, May 12, in the United States. The American incarnation of Mother’s Day was created by Anna Jarvis in 1908 and became an official U.S. holiday in 1914. Jarvis would later denounce the holiday’s commercialization and spent the latter part of her life trying to remove it from the calendar. While dates and celebrations vary, Mother’s Day traditionally involves presenting moms with flowers, cards and other gifts.
Designated as the second Sunday in May by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914, aspects of that holiday have since spread overseas, sometimes mingling with local traditions. Jarvis took great pains to acquire and defend her role as “Mother of Mother’s Day,” and to focus the day on children celebrating their mothers.
But others had the idea first, and with different agendas.
Julia Ward Howe, better known for writing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” promoted a Mothers’ Peace Day beginning in 1872. For Howe and other antiwar activists, including Anna Jarvis’s mother, Mother’s Day was a way to promote global unity after the horrors of the American Civil War and Europe’s Franco-Prussian War.
“Howe called for women to gather once a year in parlors, churches, or social halls, to listen to sermons, present essays, sing hymns or pray if they wished—all in the name of promoting peace,” said Katharine Antolini, an historian at West Virginia Wesleyan College and author of Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Struggle for Control of Mother’s Day .