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Take A Second To Salute Anna Jarvis, The Mother Of Mother's Day

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now it's Mother's Day - happy Mother's Day to you. Have you ever wondered how this tradition began in the first place? It's all because of a woman named Anna Jarvis who wanted to honor her own beloved mother, Ann, after she passed away. The first official Mother's Day services took place in May 1908. After some initial resistance, the Senate rejected the idea on the first try. The holiday finally took off in part from lobbying by florists and the holiday card companies. We were surprised to find out that Anna Jarvis came to detest what she saw as the commercial takeover of her idea, and she spent her later years trying to reverse the holiday or end it.

We wanted to hear more about that part of the story, so we called Olive Ricketts, executive director of the Anna Jarvis Museum in Grafton, W. Va., who joins us now by Skype. Welcome, Olive. Thanks for joining us.

OLIVE RICKETTS: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: You know, I read a couple of different stories about how Anna Jarvis actually got the idea, that it was actually - came from an offhand comment her mother made at Sunday school. Is that true?

RICKETTS: That is true. Her mother said that a day needed to be set aside for mothers to rest. It really didn't mean that she wanted us to get gifts or to cook a dinner or be taken out to dinner. It just meant give us one day here to actually do absolutely nothing if we wanted to. And so she decided that this would be something that she could do to honor her mother by getting this day, but it would also be all mothers.

MARTIN: So I mentioned that once the holiday took off, Anna Jarvis became disgusted at what she saw as the commercialization of her idea. After she died, the, her New York Times obituary included a quote saying, quote, "a printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who's done more for you than anyone in the world." I mean, you know, there is - there's a lot of mythology around her. Did she really say that?

RICKETTS: Yes, she did.

MARTIN: She did.

RICKETTS: She said, you know, if really want to do something for your mother and you cannot be with her - that was the most important thing. If you could go see her, you really should do that. But she said the second best thing is to write her a long, hand-written letter. Don't use other people's words to tell your mother how you feel because they don't really know how you feel about your mother.

MARTIN: Did she actually - did she really try to get the holiday repealed, or was it more she was campaigning against the commercial aspects?

RICKETTS: By 1943, she had become so distraught over the fact that she couldn't seem to stop any of the commercialization, so she decided to get a petition together to rescind Mother's Day. But they placed her in the Marshall Square Sanitarium instead. And they put her there - and you wonder who paid the bill?

MARTIN: Who?

RICKETTS: Card and florist people paid the bill to keep her there.

MARTIN: Wow. Did she ever have any kids herself?

RICKETTS: No. She never married nor had any children because she didn't like men because of the way they were so mean to her all the time (laughter).

MARTIN: Well, can you tell us about some of the Mother's Day celebrations taking place in Anna's hometown today?

RICKETTS: Today, we're doing just the tours all day. And the International Mother's Day Shrine has started their programs, where there will be a lot of singing and praising and things like they would've done the very first time in 1908.

MARTIN: Do you think Anna would approve?

RICKETTS: I think Anna would've - approve of the part that we honor our mothers the way she had intended, but I don't think she would like part of the commercialization.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: OK. Well, that was Olive Ricketts. She's executive director of the Anna Jarvis Museum. Anna Jarvis is the founder of Mother's Day. And Olive joined us from Grafton, W. Va. Olive, thanks so much for speaking with us.

RICKETTS: You're welcome. And everybody have a happy Mother's Day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.