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Mother’s Shrine Celebrates 80th Anniversary Of First Mother’s Day Service

May 6, 1988

GRAFTON, W.Va. (AP) _ Carnations, roses and memories will fill a chapel when sons and daughters gather to honor their mothers Sunday, 80 years after the nation’s first Mother’s Day service was celebrated here.

″We expect to have a full house. We usually do,″ said Lenore Shafer, a tour guide at the Mother’s Day Shrine. ″I think everybody has a feeling for their mother.

″Everybody doesn’t have children, but everybody has a mother.″

Tourists from all 50 states, England, Canada and even Japan have visited the shrine, located in a former Methodist church built in 1872, Shafer said.

″Some like the hard-carved pews, others come to see our stained glass windows and murals,″ said Betty Hayhurst, chairwoman of the committee that oversees the shrine. ″A lot of young people come here too. It’s not just old people.″

Anna Jarvis, the founder of national Mother’s Day, spelled out its purpose in a letter to organizers 80 years ago: ″To revive the dormant love and filial gratitude we owe to those who gave us birth. ... To brighten the lives of good mothers. To have them know we appreciate them, though we do not often show it as we might.″

The first Mother’s Day celebration on May 10, 1908, at Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, and another at Wanamaker’s Auditorium in Philadelphia that afternoon, marked the death of Miss Jarvis’ mother, Anna Maria Jarvis, three years earlier.

Back in the 1850s, when the area around Grafton was still part of Virginia, Mrs. Jarvis had been spurred to work against unsanitary living conditions in the region by the deaths of eight of her 12 children before they reached adulthood.

Her ″Mother’s Day Work Clubs″ in Grafton and nearby towns were so successful that doctors urged others to follow her example. The clubs also won praise for easing hostility among neighbors during the Civil War, when the slavery issue divided families and ultimately divided Virginia itself.

Throughout the last years of her life, Mrs. Jarvis shared her dream of a day set aside for the mothers of the world - living and dead - with Anna.

But she did not live long enough to see her dream come true.

According to the book ″Mother’s Day and the Mother’s Day Church,″ Anna, then a 41-year-old spinster, vowed to herself to establish Mother’s Day as her mother’s casket was being lowered into her grave at West Chester, Pa.

The idea soon became an obsession as Miss Jarvis worked to promote the day with personal appearances and letter-writing campaigns.

She finally persuaded John Wanamaker, a Philadelphia merchant and philanthropist, to support her in her quest. Wanamaker later became part of a committee, along with food manufacturer H.J. Heinz, that mapped out a program to extend Mother’s Day around the world.

After the first celebration in 1908, the idea caught on quickly, and by the following year Mother’s Day was observed in at least one town in nearly all the states, as well as Puerto Rico, Canada and Mexico.

A year later, Gov. William E. Glasscock proclaimed the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day in West Virginia, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson did the same for the whole country.

Flowers have been part of Mother’s Day since Miss Jarvis sent 500 white carnations, chosen to represent purity, to Grafton for the first celebration. Participants were urged to wear a red carnation if their mother was living, and white if their mother was dead.

″It is definitely the biggest holiday of the year for us,″ said Rocky Pollitz, vice president of industry relations for Teleflora, the nation’s largest independently owned floral company.

″People may not think of sending flowers all year, but on Mother’s Day, everybody thinks of flowers.″

Many, whose mothers have died, send flowers to the shrine, Hayhurst said. The flowers are taken to nursing homes and hospitals following the Mother’s Day service.

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