Page last updated at 11:59 GMT, Friday, 16 March 2007

The fight to copyright Mother's Day

By Victoria Bone and Denise Winterman
BBC News

Anna Jarvis
Anna's fight left her penniless

It's big business but who really objects to spending money on spoiling their mum on Mother's Day? Only the woman who invented it.

Mothers, they're lovely. They kiss you better when you hurt yourself, cook your favourite dinners and always take your side when someone is nasty to you.

The High Street shops might make a mint out of Mother's Day, but who really objects to splashing a bit of cash on their mum on her special day? One woman did and spent 40 years of her life trying to get rid of all the cards and presents - the woman who invented the day.

The old English Mothering Sunday has its roots in pre-Christian times, but modern-day Mother's Day - the cards, flowers, chocolates etc - was started in the United States by Anna Jarvis.

The ninth of 11 children, she made it her life's work to commemorate every mother after her own mother died. The idea - like Mothering Sunday - was for families to get together in church to recognise the real value of motherhood.

Horrified

Firstly she got her local church involved and after tirelessly campaigning for almost a decade, US President Woodrow Wilson officially dedicated a day to mothers in 1914 - the second Sunday in May.

UK MOTHERING SUNDAY
Roots stretch back to pre-Christian times
In 18th and 19th Centuries, servants were given the day off to visit their mothers
Britons sent 23 million cards in 2005, about 30% homemade

But within years it had become commercialised. Ms Jarvis was horrified. She tried to take action, incorporating herself as the Mother's Day International Association and claiming copyright on the date.

Along with her sister Ellsinore, Anna spent the entire family inheritance on trying to undo the damage done to Mother's Day. One of her protests even got her arrested for disturbing the peace. She died in 1948, in poverty and without success.

In one respect what Ms Jarvis wanted from the day lives on - it has taken on huge significance and is a celebration of motherhood. However, how most people chose to celebrate it would make her turn in her grave.

Say it with flowers

Consumers are pressured by advertising and businesses to measure goodwill in terms of presents, says branding expert Jonathan Gabay.

"Mother's Day has become a yearly windfall to business. It's an opportunity to market everything from cut flowers and greetings cards to nostalgic CDs, perfume and beauty products."

He's not wrong. The UK greeting card industry is worth more than £1.2bn a year, according to market research group Mintel. Mother's Day is one of the biggest events in the industry's calendar and Britons sent about 23 million cards to their mothers in 2005.

Flowers
A traditional choice of gift

According to the Flowers & Plants Association, 3.7 million mixed bouquets, 394,000 bunches of roses, 294,000 bunches of tulips, 293,000 bunches of freesia and 93,000 foliage plants were bought on Mother's Day last year.

What Mother's Day needs is a re-launch without its commercial sponsors, say some. Professor Ralph Fevre says the day is supposed to make mothers feel valued but its commercialism means it "isn't up to the job".

"We have a particular problem in the UK drawing a line around those parts of our lives that we want to keep sacrosanct from the market," he says.

"When we find some aspect of our lives that we want to value, or honour as the Americans say, we always end up involving the market in some way."

He suggests making it a weekday public holiday.

Breakfast in bed

"We need to try a bit harder to put work in its place. Having Mothers Day on a Sunday lets us off the hook.

"To have it on a weekday would show that we can resist that pull that takes us into work and which makes us value everything in economic terms."

Many mothers agree with his views, and there is a real movement among them to shift the focus away from buying presents to helping others, says one of the founders of Mumsnet, Carrie Longton.

"We don't want the day to disappear or for people to stop treating their mothers. We just want people to focus on what the day is about and not just grab a card and bunch of flowers from a petrol station on the way over to their mum's house," she says.

"It's inevitable that businesses will see the day as a way to make money, but most mothers would be happier with a homemade card because it shows some thought and effort has been put into it.

I will be working on a cake stall on Mother's Day to raise money for HIV mothers in Africa
Carrie Longton

"There is a real movement among mothers at the moment to think about mothers who are less fortunate. We are encouraging people to make a donation to charities that help mothers worldwide rather than buy flowers.

"I will be working on a cake stall on Mother's Day to raise money for HIV mothers in Africa. It costs just £7 to buy the medicine to make sure they don't pass HIV onto their children."

It's this type of action that Ms Jarvis would approve of. Especially as she hated Mother's Day cards, calling them "a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write".


Send in your comments using the form below.

I really do object to having to go to a pub for a sunday lunch on Mothers day. You get told the time you can sit down at, what time you must leave by. Then you also get told what you can order as they'll only be doing a limited menu. The price normally a 30% increase on the standard menu! It's just yet another marketing scam.
Mark , Bristol

I totally agree with Ms Jarvis. Buying a card that is written and designed by someone else, over priced and then just slipped into an envelope does not mean much. What started as a meaningful event turned into a farce thanks to the greed of capitalism. The same can be said for father's day, easter day, Christmas...
Martin Bulpitt, Oxford.

My mother was born in March so always told my sister and I not to buy another card as we saved hard for her birthday. Now as a mother of four I taught my children I would prefer to see or speak to them without any expensive extras. Neither they nor I benefit from them (I always think of the money wasted )and why should a fat cat somewhere else get the extra cash . I shall suggest to mine they may prefer to donate to other mother related charities instead.
Janet Hodgson, Scarborough

In order to 'celebrate' mother's day or simply honour our mothers at home, it could involve giving cards, flowers or a gift in any form. Gradually it had to get commercialised whether in USA or anywhere else in the world. How on earth could anyone have a date copyrighted is quite puzzling. But Carrie Longton's initiative of helping poor African mothers is something the world has to learn. Great job Ms. Longton.
Brian D, Belfast, UK

Four or five years ago I forgot to get my Mum a present and she was so genuinely delighted that I haven't bought her one since. I'm not going to make my children buy me stuff. If I see something I think my Mum will like, I'll get it for her, I don't need a designated day to do it!
Jill MacKay, Glasgow

I love Mother's Day, i like to treat my mum to a lazy day, some flowers and a cooked meal prepared by myself and my sister. I like buying her a nice card, because she's my mum. But Mother's Day isnt mothers day as I remember it a few years ago. I went into a card shop yesterday to find not only cards for mothers and grandmothers, but for girlfriends, aunties etc. Who buts a card that says 'to my girlfirend on Mother's Day? Why oh why can't people leave days for who they are supposed to be for?
Siobhan, Aberdeen, Scotland

I totally agree that Mothers Day today is nothing more than an opportunity for business people to "cash in". As a mother I have always felt embarrassed by it and even told my children how I felt just the other day. It is nice to be recognised on a special day, but I really would prefer a simple homemade card and a nice family meal rather than over priced flowers etc.
Trisha Phelan, Nottingham

Mark, how about making lunch for your mum instead of moaning about the restaurants? They have to have a coping strategy when everyone has the same idea as you all on the same day. Use your imagination and do something different if you don't like it.
Jools, Brighton

If you think it's bad in the UK, you should try the US. Here the commercialism has totally taken over. Loved ones are highly ticked off if you don't get them the presents they think they deserve for Christmas, Easter, Valentine's day, Mother's day, Father's day, Birthdey, Admin appreciation day, blah blah blah. There seems to be no understanding of the fact that you can love someone without having to express it in a commercial way ALL the time. I think we probably have Hallmark to thank for that! Ian
Ian King, Duvall. Washington. USA

At last an article on the 'real' story of Mothering Sunday. My father was a church minister and my childhood memory is of a special service for all mothers and a bunch of inexpensive seasonal flowers for all children to go up to the front of the church and receive for their mothers. I have NEVER bought a commercial card or present for my Mum. She is now 89 years old and would be horrified if I did so. However, I always phone her on Mothering Sunday and tell her how special she is and how much I have appreciated and loved her being my Mum. Of course, this is not limited to one special Sunday, but Mothering Sunday is a special time to remember ALL Mums and say thank you - not for shops etc to make money!
Rachel Colmer, Cambridge , UK

Name
Your e-mail address
Town/city and country
Your comments

The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.




RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2016 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific