2 Min Read
The PR Campaign That Created Mother’s Day
We’ve been celebrating mothers for centuries.
Yet it wasn’t until 1914 that the second Sunday in May was officially deemed Mother’s Day.
It took a PR pro to make it happen. And it happened right here in Philly.
Anna Jarvis was an advertising copywriter living in Philadelphia in the early 1900s. Her own mother was a peace activist following the Civil War who organized service days for mothers to help those less fortunate.
Campaigning for Mother’s Day
When Jarvis’ mother died in 1905, she committed to creating a holiday to honor her and all mothers.
She developed a multi-channel campaign to drum up publicity for her proposed holiday. She partnered with local florists. She organized a letter-writing campaign to state governors. She sought the support of influencers like Mark Twain and President Teddy Roosevelt.
The campaign culminated in a Mother’s Day event at Philadelphia’s Wanamaker’s department store in 1908, where Jarvis spoke to thousands in attendance.
Finally, in 1914 Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day an official national holiday.
That’s when Jarvis lost control of the campaign. As the holiday gained popularity, card companies, florists and even charities starting using Mother’s Day in their own campaigns.
Jarvis was furious. “They’re commercializing my Mother’s Day,” she wrote.
So, she mounted another aggressive PR campaign – this time to roll back Mother’s Day popularity. She organized boycotts, sued groups that failed to credit her as the holiday’s creator, and even petitioned to have its official status revoked. At one candy convention protest, she was arrested for disturbing the peace.
As Mother’s Day gained traction worldwide, Jarvis was a victim of her own successful PR efforts. It’s a lesson in controlling your message once it catches on – and understanding that you won’t be able to control it completely.
Eight in 10 families will celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday. Spending on the holiday will total more than $28 billion.