On this day in history, May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issues proclamation creating Mother’s Day


On this day in history, May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation for Americans to show a public expression of reverence to mothers through the celebration of Mother’s Day.

“Proclamation 1268 – Mother’s Day” stated, in part, “Whereas, by a Joint Resolution approved May 8, 1914, designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day, and for other purposes, the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the government officials to display the United States flag on all government buildings,” according to The American Presidency Project of the University of California Santa Barbara.

The proclamation continued, “And the people of the United States [can] display the flag at their homes or other suitable places on the second Sunday in May as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”

The first unofficial Mother’s Day observances were organized by West Virginia resident Anna Jarvis and held in Grafton, West Virginia, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on May 10, 1908, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Anna Jarvis’s push for a special day to celebrate mothers was one she inherited from her own mother, social activist Anne Reeves Jarvis, said the BBC.

“Mrs. [Anne Reeves] Jarvis had spent her life mobilizing mothers to care for their children, says historian Katharine Antolini, and she wanted mothers’ work to be recognized,” that outlet noted.

“I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial Mother’s Day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it,” Mrs. Jarvis said, according to the BBC.

Her daughter took up the mantle and began celebrating a special day to honor mothers.

“As the annual celebration became popular around the country, Jarvis became the driving force behind Mother’s Day and asked members of Congress to set aside a day to honor mothers,” the U.S. Census Bureau reported.

She embarked on letter-writing initiative to politicians and newspapers urging them to honor motherhood. 

In May 1908, after receiving financial support from Philadelphia department store owner John Wanamaker, Jarvis organized the first official Mother’s Day celebration at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia, noted History.com.

“That same day also saw thousands of people attend a Mother’s Day event at one of Wanamaker’s retail stores in Philadelphia,” said the same site. 

Following the success of her first Mother’s Day, Jarvis, who remained unmarried and childless her whole life, wanted to see the holiday added to the national calendar, said History.com.

She embarked on letter-writing initiative to politicians and newspapers urging them to honor motherhood, that site also noted.

By 1912, some states, towns and churches had adopted Mother’s Day as an annual holiday, and Jarvis had established the Mother’s Day International Association to help promote her cause, the site also noted.

Support for acknowledging and honoring American mothers continued when, on May 10, 1913, the House of Representatives passed a resolution asking all federal government officials to wear a white carnation the following day in observance of Mother’s Day, the Boston Public Library’s website said.

On May 8, 1914, Congress passed a law designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. The next day, President Wilson issued a proclamation on the issue, said the same site. 

When the price of carnations rocketed, Jarvis released a statement condemning florists. 

“He declared the first national Mother’s Day as a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war,” said the Boston Public Library’s archives.

“Later, in 1934, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved a stamp commemorating the holiday,” the archives also reported.

Jarvis, founder of the special day, later became disenchanted with the commercialization of the celebration, according to the BBC.

When the price of carnations rocketed, Jarvis released a statement condemning florists, noted the BBC. 

“What will you do to rout charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and other termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations?” the release reportedly stated. 

By 1920, Jarvis was urging people not to buy flowers at all, that site reported.

Through the years, Mother’s Day has also been a date used for social platforms and messaging.  

In 1968 Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King Jr., used Mother’s Day to host a march in support of underprivileged women and children, according to History.com. 

In the 1970s, women’s groups also used the holiday as a time to highlight the need for equal rights and access to child care, the same source said. 

Mother’s Day is a holiday with significant consumer spending, too.

Consumers plan to spend a total of $35.7 billion on Mother’s Day this year, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), which is nearly $4 billion more than last year’s record high of $31.7 billion. 

Additionally, 84% of U.S. adults are expected to celebrate the holiday, the NRF said.

Of those celebrating Mother’s Day, most (57%) are purchasing gifts for a mother or stepmother, followed by a wife (23%) or daughter (12%), the federation said.

As seen in previous years, the most popular gifts to give are flowers (74%), greeting cards (74%) and special outings such as dinner or brunch (60%). 

Consumers will spend a total of $7.8 billion on jewelry, $5.6 billion on special outings and $4 billion on electronics, according to the survey by the federation.