Professor Publishes Book About West Virginia Icon Anna Jarvis

Friday, May 9th, 2014

If you are from West Virginia, chances are you have heard of Anna Jarvis.  If you live close enough to the small town of Grafton, you may have even visited the old church that stands as a shrine to her accomplishments.  Jarvis was the founder of Mother’s Day, organizing the first official celebration in 1908 and spending four decades promoting the holiday and defending it from commercialization and ideological exploitation.

Katharine Antolini ’94, assistant professor of history at West Virginia Wesleyan College, knows the story of Jarvis all too well.  A history buff, Antolini will have her first book published by WVU Press this fall entitled Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Struggle for Control of Mother’s Day.

“Since the nineteenth century, the idea of a day honoring the role of ‘mother’ has provided a platform for a cultural debate over the intrinsic value of motherhood and the boundaries of the maternal role in society,” commented Antolini.  “Memorializing Motherhood traces the varied conceptualizations of motherhood embedded within the history of Mother’s Day, from the first promotions of a maternal memorial day in the nineteenth century to the competing Mother’s Day celebrations of the early twentieth century.”

Jarvis designed her Mother’s Day celebration based on a sentimental view of motherhood and domesticity.  Envisioning a day venerating the daily services and sacrifices of mothers within the home, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Mother’s Day a national holiday in 1914.  Antolini’s book explores the complex social understanding of motherhood in the American culture.

“Other organizations sought to alter the day’s sentimental observance to meet the changing perceptions of modern motherhood and the realities of women’s lives in the twentieth century,” Antolini explained.  “Instead of restricting a mother’s service and influence solely to the domestic sphere, they emphasized the power of mothers both within their homes and throughout their communities.”

The subject matter is close to Antolini’s heart as she serves on the Board of Trustees of the International Mother’s Day Shrine in Grafton.  Since this Mother’s Day will mark the 100th anniversary of the day’s designation as a national holiday, the Board is hosting a celebration on Sunday, May 11 at 2 p.m. at the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church, the current International Mother’s Day Shrine in Grafton.  The service will feature key-note speaker Joy Rose, founder and executive director of the Museum of Motherhood.