Mums are special
The modern Mother’s day began in the United States, at the initiative of Anna Jarvis in the early 20th century. It was first celebrated in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother at St Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. But the origins of the day can be traced back to Anna’s campaign to make Mother’s Day a recognized holiday in the United States which began in 1905, the year her mother died. Her mother confusingly named Ann Jarvis had been a peace activist who cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the American Civil War, and created Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address public health issues. Anna Jarvis wanted to honour her mother by continuing the work she started and to set aside a day to honour all mothers because she believed a mother is “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world”.
In 1908, the U.S. Congress rejected a proposal to make Mother’s Day an official holiday, joking that they would also have to proclaim a “Mother-in-law’s Day”. However, owing to the efforts of Anna Jarvis, by 1911 all U.S. states observed the holiday, with some of them officially recognizing Mother’s Day as a local holiday (the first being West Virginia, Jarvis’ home state, in 1910). In 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation designating Mother’s Day, held on the second Sunday in May, as a national holiday in the USA to honour mothers.
Although Jarvis was successful in founding Mother’s Day, she became resentful of the commercialization of the holiday. By the early 1920s, greeting card companies had started selling Mother’s Day cards. Jarvis believed that the companies had misinterpreted and exploited the idea of Mother’s Day, and that the emphasis of the holiday should be on sentiment, not profit. As a result, she organized boycotts of Mother’s Day, and threatened to issue lawsuits against the companies involved. She argued that people should appreciate and honour their mothers through handwritten letters expressing their love and gratitude, instead of buying gifts and pre-made cards. Sadly the commercial model proliferated and Mother’s day in both the UK and USA is now big business. The total retail spend on Mother’s day in the UK was valued at almost £1.4 billion in 2017.
Father’s also have their own day; but it is much less well observed. In 2017, the proportion of UK consumers ranking Father’s Day as less important than Mother’s Day increased 15.6 percentage points, with 24.5% of shoppers surveyed agreeing. As a result, the gap between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day spend widened, with expenditure on Dad being less than 50% of that on Mum.
Anna Jarvis was right though. What most Mum’s appreciate most is having their children spend quality time with them, not fancy gifts and expensive cards.