When activist Anna Jarvis originally conceived of Mothers’ Day, it was intended as an intimate, perhaps even somber event, during which children can acknowledge the myriad sacrifices endured by the women who birthed and raised them. By 1914, her campaigning led to President Woodrow Wilson’s signature on a bill establishing Mother’s Day as the second Sunday in May.
Nearly a century later, that “intimate” event, according to estimates of the National Retail Federation, is a $20.7 billion business. Naturally, our moms deserve every bit of that $20.7 billion brunch they get from us but Jarvis would not have approved. She brought numerous lawsuits against organizations that used the “holiday” in conjunction with charity causes and even petitioned the government to remove it from the calendar after having worked so hard to get it on there in the first place.
History.com reports an incident that occured in 1925 in which “…an organization called the American War Mothers used Mother’s Day as an occasion for fundraising and selling carnations. Jarvis crashed their convention in Philadelphia and was arrested for disturbing the peace…” Find me a national holiday invented in the 20th century that hasn’t become a marketing bonanza and I’ll kindly direct you to my birthday and call you all slackers (be assured, my day will come).
That said, I do find some aspects of all this consumer spending disturbing, especially since among the Mother’s Day profiteers is Hallmark, the monolithic greeting card company that has metastasized into its own TV channel among other atrocities. This is my fear – born from a drunken conversation with Trane DeVore sometime in the mid 90s: In the deep future, alien archeologists will visit a quiet, dead earth and exhume countless greeting cards from the rubble. They will evaluate the treacly one-liners and sanctimonious couplets and, in a moment of cosmic bathos, conclude that “Hallmark” must have been the earth’s poet laureate since his name is printed on all of them. At which point, they would stop digging and go home never to learn of the poetic genius of DeVore and Howell. And maybe Shakespeare. And Pound before the war.
So, in some regards, I empathize with Anna Jarvis, who, ironically died childless and destitute in a sanitarium in 1948. Perhaps if she had offspring of her own to shower her in flowers and mimosas she would have felt differently (probably sticky). That said, the kids would probably put her in a sanitorium anyway, given all that muttering, like an anti-capitalist Cassandra, on and on about the evils of Moloch. You remember Moloch? The ancient god whose name translates from the Phoenician literally as “Mark on the Hall of the Gods.” Just say’n.