Mother’s Day history: A timeline

Pre-205 B.C., Ancient Greece and Rome

The Greeks make offerings of honeycakes, fine drinks and flowers at dawn to Rhea, the mother of the gods.

During the Festival of Hilaria every March, Roman worshippers honor Magna Mater (Great Mother), the mother of all gods, with gifts at her temple in Rome.

Mother’s Day history: 1600s, England

England celebrates “Mothering Sunday” on the fourth Sunday of Lent (the 40 days leading up to Easter) to honor the country’s mothers. The poor who live and work as servants for the wealthy, far away from their homes and families, get the day off to return home and spend the day with their mothers. “Mothering cakes” are part of the festivities.

1850s–1865, United States

Mrs. Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis (also known as “Mother Jarvis” to distinguish her from her daughter Anna) organizes several “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” in West Virginia. Having lost eight children under the age of 7 (out of 12 births), she works to combat poor health and sanitation conditions that contribute to the high mortality rate among children. The clubs make a pact that the Civil War will not diminish their friendship and goodwill, and members nurse and save the lives of soldiers from both sides.

1868, United States

Mother Jarvis and other women organize Mother’s Friendship Day picnics and other events designed to encourage families to set aside wartime differences.

1872, United States

Boston writer Julia Ward Howard, author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” suggests a Mother’s Day celebration, and encourages women to take active political roles in the effort to foster peace. Her version of Mother’s Day never really catches on, but Julia goes on to head the American branch of the Women’s International Peace Association, which observes a day dedicated to peace.

1905, United States

Mother Jarvis dies.

Mother’s Day history: 1908, United States

Inspired by her mother’s life and death, Anna Jarvis organizes the first Mother’s Day observance, despite never having had children of her own. On May 10, families gather to celebrate in Anna’s hometown of Grafton, West Virginia — at a church now renamed the International Mother’s Day Shrine — as well as in Philadelphia, where she lives, and in several other cities.

Largely through Anna’s efforts, Mother’s Day is observed in a growing number of cities across the country every year thereafter.

1914, United States

President Woodrow Wilson officially designates the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

Anna insists that it be called Mother’s Day, not Mothers’ Day (plural): “It isn’t to celebrate all mothers. It is to celebrate the best mother you’ve ever known — your mother — as a son or a daughter.”

1920s, United States

Hallmark begins selling Mother’s Day cards, the purchase of which Anna criticizes as a sign that the writer is too lazy to write a personal letter.

Sons and daughters begin to give flowers and candies on Mother’s Day, setting off a new focus on profit.

1923–1940s, United States

Anna becomes disillusioned with the commercialization of Mother’s Day. She works as hard to reform the day of recognition as she did to begin it, even getting arrested for disturbing the peace at a Philadelphia convention of confectioners who are using Mother’s Day for fundraising.

Mother’s Day history: 1934, United States

Franklin Delano Roosevelt personally designs a postage stamp to commemorate Mother’s Day. Anna Jarvis does not approve of the design and refuses to allow the words “Mother’s Day” on the stamp — so they never do.

1948, United States

Anna Jarvis passes away at the age of 84.

1968, United States

Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King, Jr., hosts a Mother’s Day march in support of underprivileged women and children. Mother’s Day continues to evolve as an occasion for launching political and feminist causes.

1970s, United States

Women’s groups use the holiday to highlight the need for equal rights and access to childcare.

Mother’s Day history: 2005–2013, United States

Mother’s Day shares its weekend with other occasions, such as the Southern 500 auto race and the Players Championship men’s golf tournament. Professional sports players often wear pink clothing and accessories on Mother’s Day weekend.

2018, United States

Mother’s Day spending is on target to top 2017’s estimated $23 billion. According to a National Retail Federation survey, shoppers spent an average of $186.39 in 2017 on their moms: 77 percent sent greeting cards, 69 percent sent flowers, and 36 percent gave jewelry.
Source: “NRF Mother’s Day Spending Survey,” conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics

Nearly half of all Americans will dine at a restaurant on what the National Restaurant Association reports is the most popular holiday of the year to do so.

Mother’s Day is the third most popular holiday for card exchange, behind Christmas and Valentine’s Day.