In the United States the celebration of the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day dates to efforts by Anna Jarvis to establish such a day honoring her own and other mothers. She organized a church service to celebrate her mother in 1908 and handed out white carnations, her mother’s favorite flower, to those in attendance. Jarvis lobbied prominent businessmen and politicians, including William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt, to support her campaign to create a special day to honor mothers. In 1908 Nebraska Senator Elmer Burkett presented the first bill in the U.S. Senate proposing the official establishment of such a holiday, although it did not become a law.
In 1909 Mother’s Day observances were held in forty-six states, including Nebraska. The Lincoln Daily Star on May 6, 1909, reported Governor Ashton C. Shallenberger’s proclamation designating the following Sunday, May 9, as Mother’s Day in Nebraska. The Star said, “The proclamation of the governor is issued with a vivid recollection of how the United States senate last year made light of a resolution offered in that body by Senator Burkett of Nebraska recognizing ‘mother’s day.’ One member of the senate proposed to amend by adding mothers-in-law and other relatives and the resolution was sidetracked.
“One year ago Secretary [C. M.] Mayne of the Lincoln Y.M.C.A., and other citizens spent a little over $11 in payment of a telegram to Governor Sheldon, who was out of the state asking him to issue a mother’s day proclamation. Being out of the state, Mr. Sheldon had no authority as governor, so he left the matter with Acting Governor Charles L. Saunders, of Omaha, who declined to act.”
Governor Shallenberger, citing unofficial observances of Mother’s Day in Nebraska in 1908, sought to “aid the effort to extend the scope of the organized celebration of this day by giving to it the sanction of the governor’s proclamation” and designated Sunday, May 9, 1909, as Mother’s Day in Nebraska. He asked that “all Nebraskans–men, women, and children–shall upon this designated day, wear a white flower,” a custom that he hoped would be observed internationally.
Wishing to encourage humanitarian service and charitable giving, Shallenberger further asked “that on this new holiday the sick and afflicted be visited by their more fortunate fellows; that flowers be sent to those who rarely receive such tokens, to the poor in hospitals and to the sinning in prisons; that fruit and other gifts to cheer be sent to asylums for orphans, to old people’s homes and to hospitals for the sick or the insane.”
On May 8, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a joint congressional resolution designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day in the United States. Since then, observances of Mother’s Day with greeting cards, gifts, and flowers have made it one of the most popular of American holidays.