by Dr. Katharine L. Brown
1st Vice President and Trustee, Germanna Foundation
The mother in whose honor Mother’s Day was established was a Germanna descendant born and raised in Culpeper, Virginia.
Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother’s Day, devoted years to gaining national recognition for a day to honor mothers, as a fulfillment of an idea and dream held by her own mother.
Anna’s model for motherhood was her exceptional mother, Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, who was born in Culpeper on September 30, 1832, the daughter of Josiah Washington Reeves and his wife, Nancy Kemper Reeves.
Her mother’s Kemper ancestor, Johannes Kemper, came to Virginia from Germany in 1714 as one of the original Germanna colonists whom Lt. Governor Spotswood settled at Fort Germanna on the frontier.
Johannes (or John) Kemper, the immigrant, married Alice Catherine (Ailsey) Otterbach, a fellow 1714 immigrant from the Siegerland, soon after their arrival in Virginia.
Ann Marie Reeves’ father, Josiah Reeves, was a Methodist minister who was transferred in 1843 from Culpeper to Philippi, Barbour County, now in West Virginia, when Ann Marie was eleven.
In 1850, Ann Marie Reeves married Granville Jarvis, son of a Baptist minister, who became a successful merchant in nearby Taylor County.
Anne Marie Reeves Jarvis was mother to eleven children, but only four reached adulthood.
Mrs. Jarvis was a dynamic woman who saw needs in her community and found ways to meet them.
She organized Mothers’ Day Work Clubs in the towns of Grafton, Pruntytown, Philippi, Fetterman, and Webster to improve health and sanitary conditions.
These clubs raised money to buy medicine and to hire women to work in families where the mother suffered from tuberculosis.
They developed programs to inspect milk, long before there were state requirements.
Mrs. Jarvis called on her brother, Dr. James Edmund Reeves, who practiced medicine in Philippi and Fairmount, to provide advice and training for the women in her clubs.
During the Civil War sentiment in western Virginia was sharply divided and the western part of the state broke away from Virginia and formed the new state of West Virginia, loyal to the Union.
Ann Marie Jarvis urged her Mothers’ Day Work Clubs to declare neutrality and to provide aid to both Confederate and Union soldiers.
The clubs fed and clothed soldiers from both sides stationed in the area. When typhoid fever and measles broke out in the military camps, Mrs. Jarvis and her club members provided nursing help to the suffering soldiers, both Blue and Gray.
At the end of the war, public officials, seeking ways to eliminate postwar strife, called on Mrs. Jarvis to help.
She and her club members planned a “Mothers Friendship Day” for all soldiers from both sides and their families at the Taylor County Courthouse, with bands playing “Dixie” and the “Star Spangled Banner” and “Auld Lang Syne.”
This effective and emotional event reduced many to tears, and to the understanding that old animosities were destructive and must end.
The Mothers Friendship Day was an annual event for several years, until tensions had disappeared and it was no longer needed.
Mrs. Jarvis taught Sunday School for a quarter century, and was often invited to lecture on subjects such as “Literature as a Source of Culture and Refinement,” “Great Mothers of the Bible,” and “The Importance of Supervised Recreational Centers for Boys and Girls,” a very progressive idea at the time.
She often spoke of her dream to have a day in which Americans would honor mothers. After her husband Granville Jarvis died, she moved to Philadelphia to live with her son and two daughters. She died there in 1907.
Her daughter Anna Jarvis (1864-1948) began her campaign for the creation of a Mother’s Day on the first anniversary of her mother’s death.
She secured a resolution favoring such a day from the church in Grafton, West Virginia, where her mother had been active.
She then began a letter-writing and speaking campaign, gaining the support of the great Philadelphia merchant and philanthropist, John Wanamaker.
By 1909, forty-five states were observing Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May, but the first official proclamation came from the Governor of West Virginia in 1910. President Woodrow Wilson approved a resolution adopted by both houses of Congress recognizing Mother’s Day in 1914.
Anna Jarvis wanted carnations to be the symbol for Mother’s Day, and hoped that every American would wear one on the second Sunday in May, a white one for a deceased mother, and a red one for a mother still living.
For many years she sent 500 or more carnations to the church in Grafton where her mother was so active. That church, Andrew United Methodist Church, is now the location of a Mother’s Day memorial statue and garden.
Anna Jarvis’ birthplace, the home her father Granville Jarvis built in 1854 in the village of Webster, Taylor County, West Virginia, the home from which Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis organized her pioneering women’s work, has now been restored and opened as a museum.
The Germanna Foundation and its members have reason to be proud that an exceptional woman who sparked a national recognition of the role of mothers through her own outstanding life of service was a Germanna descendant born and raised in the Culpeper community, and that her daughter, a Germanna descendant as well, is responsible for making Mother’s Day a national celebration.