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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 802

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This is the grave of Anna Jarvis.

Born in 1864 in Webster, West Virginia, Jarvis and her family moved to Grafton, West Virginia when she was a girl. She went to Augusta Female Seminary, a sort of half-finishing school, half-two year college, the precursor to the modern Mary Baldwin University. She then moved back to West Virginia for awhile, taught school for awhile, and was an active church member. She moved to Chattanooga for a bit and then to Philadelphia, where she lived with family.

Jarvis was super close to her mother. So when her mother died in 1905, Jarvis decided to commemorate her with a giant ceremony in 1908 that was intended to respect all mothers. This was the origin of Mother’s Day. The entire thing was, from almost the very beginning, a corporate creation. It’s not as if Jarvis, a pretty respectable but unexceptional woman, had the ability to just create a holiday out of whole hog. It was the flower industry that made this a thing. She had used white carnations at the commemoration for her mother. But she wanted a Victorian sentimental holiday for mothers. The flower industry wanted to make some cash. The nation was moving out of Victorian values and toward a consumer culture. So the flower industry totally won that battle, much to Jarvis’ chagrin, as she was deeply invested in the idea. The rise of the greeting card industry was significantly helped out by all this and joined with the florists to cash in. By 1910, it was a state holiday in West Virginia and in 1914, Woodrow Wilson declared it a national holiday. But Jarvis remained angry. In fact, she got so upset by the commercialization that in 1943, she started a petition to rescind the holiday. No one cared.

Jarvis never did profit off any of this. She did not marry either. She lived with her sister in her later years and died in poverty in 1948 at the age of 84.

I dunno, sure it’s commercial. But in the end, who really cares. It’s still nice to make our moms happy, even if it is about money spent into a consumer capitalist society.

Anna Jarvis is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.

This grave visit was sponsored by LGM reader donations, from my trip in January. Thanks so much! If you’d like this series to visit other people associated with American holidays, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Esther Howland, who is responsible for Valentine’s Day cards in America, is in Quincy, Massachusetts, and Elias Boudinot, who convinced George Washington to issue the first Thanksgiving Day, is in Burlington, New Jersey. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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