Date: Sat, 9 May 1998 21:02:04 EDT
From: Bapopik
Subject: Mother's Day (1890? 1908?)

It should surprise no one that "Mother's Day" is an Americanism. Without
her, there would be just baseball, apple pie, and hot dogs.
It's a holiday even Saddam Hussein can love.
discusses this on pages 58-60:

Born in 1864, Anna Jarvis attended school in Grafton, West Virginia.
(...) The death of her father in 1902 compelled Anna and her mother to live
with relatives in Philadelphia. Three years later, her mother died on May 9,
leaving Ann grief-stricken. (...) For two years these naggings germinated,
bearing the fruit of an idea in 1907. On the second Sunday in May, the
anniversary of her mother's death, Anna Jarvis invited a group of friends to
her Philadelphia home. Her announced idea--for an annual nationwide
celebration to be called Mother's ("Mothers'" is correct--ed.) Day--met with
unanimous support. (...)
So on May 10, 1908, the first Mother's Day service was held in Grafton,
West Virginia, attended by 407 children and their mothers. (...) The House of
Representatives quickly passed a Mother's Day resolution. (...) The resolution
stalled in the Senate. A determined Anna Jarvis then began what has been
called one of the most successful one-person letter-writing campaigns in
history. (Sounds familiar--ed.)(...) By 1914, to dissent on the Mother's Day
issue seemed not only cynical but un-American. Finally, the Senate approved
the legislation, and on May 8, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a
proclamation designating the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day.

This was quite an achievement for Anna Jarvis. After all, in 1908 and in
1914, mothers weren't respected enough to vote!
So much for history. We have two concerns here: (1) is it Mother's Day
or Mothers' Day, and (2) what's the earliest citation?
When it was passed, it was "Mothers' Day," but now it's "Mother's Day."
Personally, I prefer the plural "ladies' man" to "lady's man" (several
ladies), but I prefer the singular "Mother's Day" (one mother) to "Mothers'
Day." Although Anna Jarvis intended the day to honor all moms, you're
concerned about Mom. In 1914 (the year of passage), both titles were used.
A Worldcat search was interesting. Check this out:

AUTHOR: Sasseen, Mary Towles.
TITLE: Mother's day celebration.
PLACE: (Kentucky?).
PUBLISHER: The Author.
YEAR: 1893.

It beats the OED citation of 1908. And look at this:

AUTHOR: Pattengill, Henry R. (Henry Romaine), 1852-1918.
TITLE: Special day exercises:
arbor day, memorial days, state day, flag exercises,
day, penmanship day, authors' days, statesmen's days,
Thanksgiving, Christmas.
EDITION: 3d ed.
PLACE: Lansing, Mich.
PUBLISHER: R. Smith Print Co. (other editions list the author here--ed.)
YEAR: 1890.

A fourth edition (four, count 'em, four!) would be published in 1907,
exactly when Anna Jarvis would supposedly originate Mothers' Day. This book
has "mothers' day" in the title!
However, Jarvis must be given a lot of credit--certainly for our
national holiday. Panati has this on page 60:

Though Anna Jarvis triumphed in her campaign for a Mother's Day, her
personal life did not have a happy ending. Disillusioned by a disastrous love
affair, she vowed never to marry and, childless, came to view each Mother's
Day as a painful personal mockery. And as commercialization encroached upon
what had been intended as a religious observance, she became litigious,
initiating lawsuits against companies seeking to profit from Mother's Day.
The suits failed, and Anna Jarvis became a recluse. Within a short time, she
exhausted her savings and lost her family home; a blind sister, Elsinore, to
whom she had devoted her life, died. These misfortunes undermined her own
health, and in November 1944 she was forced to seek public assistance.
Realizing her desperate plight, friends provided funds so she could spend her
final years in a private sanitarium. Deaf, ailing, and nearly blind, the
woman whose efforts brought happiness to countless mothers died in 1948,
childless and alone, at the age of eighty-four.

AMERICA IN SO MANY WORDS doesn't include "Mother's Day." The word-of-
the-year for 1908 is "asleep at the switch."