Anna Jarvis
A portrait of the founder of Mothers Day, Anna Jarvis, circa 1900 FPG / Getty Images

3 Historical Arguments Against Mother's Day

May 10, 2015

Campaigning against Mother's Day is a surefire way to sound like a grouch — but that didn't stop Anna Jarvis.

That's because if anyone could get away with it, she could. After all, Jarvis invented the whole thing, and then it ballooned far beyond what she had been imagining. As TIME wrote in 1938, it was May of 1907 when Jarvis persuaded a church in her hometown, Philadelphia, to hold a special church service on the anniversary of her mother's death. The next year the governors of Florida and North Dakota issued special proclamations inspired by the service and it went national in 1914 when President Wilson made one, too. It wasn't long before businesspeople across the country figured the day could be a great way to sell the nation on flowers, cards and other tokens. Jarvis, the article explained, was not amused:

Anna Jarvis is the 60-year-old Philadelphia spinster who invented Mother’s Day. Whenever she thinks of what the flower shops, the candy stores, the telegraph companies have done with her idea, she is disgusted. She has even incorporated Mother’s Day to help keep unscrupulous florists and confectioners from using her patented trademark for commercial purposes. But “nobody,” she says, “pays any attention to law any more.”

Once she was arrested for disorderly conduct for interrupting a Philadelphia meeting of American War Mothers, whom she accused of profiteering on Mother’s Day carnations. In 1934 she kept James Aloysius Farley from putting “Mother’s Day” on his special 3¢ Whistler’s Mother stamp, which she said was just another racket. Last week on Mother’s Day she contented herself with denouncing a Manhattan “Mother’s Peace Day” parade and a “Parents’ Day” meeting in Central Park. (One of her current slogans is “Don’t Kick Mother out of Mother’s Day.”) Then she dedicated an eternal light to the Mothers of America and went to a service in her honor at the Church of the Saviour.

It didn't stop there. TIME reported that Jarvis sent violent telegrams to President Roosevelt and mostly shut herself inside her house–emerging only to hand out flyers about the evils of commercializing Mother's Day.

But rampant commerce wasn't the only objection to the way Mother's Day was celebrated. In that same TIME story, Eleanor Roosevelt urged that Mother's Day also be turned into a public awareness event about the maternal mortality rate, which was 14,000 deaths a year at the time. That idea was an echo of an earlier campaign by physiologist Thomas Wilcox Haggard, who in 1934 reminded the world that "lives of mothers can be saved only by facing gruesome realities, not by holding out the promise of a potted plant."

And finally, history has seen its fair share of those who believe that Mother's Day is all well and good, but doesn't go far enough. In 1950, TIME wrote about Miss Dorothy Babb, an advocate for a National Old Maids' Day. "Many spinsters, she pointed out, don’t even get birthday gifts, so eager are they to avoid the subject of age," the magazine reported. In the '70s, that cry was picked up by the National Organization for Non-Parents, which advocated for Non-Mother's Day to be a holiday.

Read the whole 1938 story about Mother's Day and Anna Jarvis, here in the TIME Vault: Mother's Day, Inc.

Mother's Day Special: LIFE With Famous Moms

Jackie Kennedy reads to her daughter, Caroline, in Hyannis Port, Mass., in 1960.
Jackie Kennedy reads to her daughter, Caroline, in Hyannis Port, Mass., in 1960.Alfred Eisenstaedt—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Jackie Kennedy reads to her daughter, Caroline, in Hyannis Port, Mass., in 1960.
Judy Garland holds her daughter, Liza, at home in Hollywood in 1946.
Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra with her daughter, Elizabeth Frances, in Rome in 1962.
Elizabeth Taylor and her mother, Sara, in 1948.
Shirley MacLaine and her daughter, Sachi Parker, in 1959.
The great American contralto Marian Anderson kisses her mother after a concert in Philadelphia in 1937.
Burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee holds her 4-year-old son, Erik Lee Kirkland, during a stopover in her traveling carnival show, Memphis, Tenn., 1949.
Shirley Temple with her daughter, Lori, in Atherton, California, in 1957.
Ingrid Bergman and her daughter, Pia Lindstrom, in 1959.
Sophia Loren with her son, Carlo Ponti, Jr., in 1969.
Sophia Loren (right) poses with her mother (center) and her sister, Maria, in 1957.
Zsa Zsa Gabor and her daughter, Francesca, at home in Bel Air, 1951.
Actress Joan Crawford and her two adopted children on the beach, Monterey, California, 1945.
Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy with her children, 1961.
Jane Fonda and her daughter, Vanessa, in California, 1971.
Nancy Reagan with Ron Reagan in Pacific Palisades, Calif., in 1965.
Natalie Wood and her mother at home, 1945.
Peggy Lee gets a goodnight kiss from her 4-year-old daughter Nicki, 1948.
Mia Farrow reads to her children on Martha's Vineyard in 1974.
Jackie Kennedy reads to her daughter, Caroline, in Hyannis Port, Mass., in 1960.
Alfred Eisenstaedt—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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