The earliest accounts of a holiday or celebration of motherhood can be traced to the ancient Greeks and Romans who often held festivals in honor of the mother goddesses Cybele and Rhea. However, when it comes to the actual traditions of modern-day Mother's Day, it is often associated with the early Christian festival known as Mothering Sunday. Mothering Sunday was once a major tradition in Europe, primarily the United Kingdom, and fell on the 4th Sunday during Lent.
The tradition was based around faithful Christians returning to their “mother church” (the main church around their home) for a special service provided at the church. This tradition slowly transitioned into a holiday where children would present their actual mothers with flowers and other gifts. Mothering Sunday slowly fell out of popularity and eventually merged with the American Mother's Day in the 1930s.
In the United states Mother's Day got its start from clubs called Mother's Day Work Clubs that taught local women childcare and other motherly skills. These clubs became a unifying force during the civil war and in 1868 Ann Reeves Jarvis organized Mother’s Friendship Day which mothers of both union and Confederate soldiers gathered to promote reconciliation. In the late 1800s numerous movements and celebrations began appearing to celebrate motherhood and even world peace, like Mother's Peace Day.
In the early 1990s Anna Jarvis, the daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis, conceived Mother’s Day after the death of her mother as a way for children to honor the sacrifices their mothers make. The first Mother's Day celebration was in May of 1908 funded by a Philadelphia department store owner John Wanamaker and took place as a celebration at the Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. During that day thousands of people also attended a special Mother's Day event at one of Wanamaker’s retail stores in Philadelphia.
Following the success of the first Mother's Day celebration Jarvis committed her life to getting the holiday added to the national calendar. Her argument was that American holidays were biased towards male achievements and as early as 1912 many states and local areas had adapted Mother’s Day as an annual holiday. In 1914 president Woodrow Wilson officially signed Mother's Day as a national holiday on the 2nd Sunday in May.
After it became a national holiday, Jarvis began to protest the commercialization of the holiday in the 1920s when commercialization of flowers and other gifts seemed to outweigh the original celebration of motherhood. By the time of her death in 1948 Jarvis had disowned the holiday altogether after years of actively lobbying the government to remove it from the national calendar.