Mother's Day Officially Turns 100: A Legal Timeline

By Brett Snider, Esq. on May 09, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Our nation is officially recognizing Mother's Day for the 100th time this year, and it has been a long and interesting century.

Why do we celebrate Mother's Day on the second Sunday of May? And who came up with this idea anyway?

Check out our legal timeline of how Mother's Day came to be in America:

Began as One Mother's Memorial

While Mother's Day is now a fairly commercialized gift-giving holiday, it began as a remembrance for a pacifist activist who died over a century ago. According to National Geographic, Anna Jarvis began the observance of Mother's Day in 1908 to commemorate the work of her own mother, a woman who worked during the Civil War to promote peace, and others like her.

Jarvis actually died penniless in a sanatorium trying to stop the holiday from becoming a celebration of all mothers, wishing to focus only on the "best" mother a child had known. To her credit, the holiday is still celebrated as "Mother's Day" not "Mothers' Day."

President Woodrow Wilson Makes It Official

After Jarvis popularized Mother's Day at the dawn of the 20th century, it took only six years for it to be recognized by the federal government. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed on May 9, 1914, that the second Sunday in May would be designated as "Mother's Day."

Like its closest May relative, Law Day, the president is required to make a proclamation every year for Mother's Day, asking for "a public expression of love and reverence for the mothers of the United States."

Written Into U.S. Law

Mother's Day was first recognized by a joint resolution of Congress in May 1914.

However, Mother's Day was lumped in with a number of other popular holidays, and rewritten into U.S. law in 1998. The code calls for government buildings -- or anyone really -- to display the U.S. flag on the second Sunday of May.

Mother's Day Today

In 2013, President Obama issued a Mother's Day proclamation that called on Americans to give thanks to "proud, caring women from every walk of life." And on this 100th year celebrating Mother's Day, we shall do the same.

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