I was surprised to learn today that Mother's Day was connected to the Civil War and an anti-war observance. I never saw a card about that at Hallmark!
Early "Mother's Day" was mostly marked by women's peace groups. A common early activity was the meeting of groups of mothers whose sons had fought or died on opposite sides of the American Civil War. In New York City, Julia Ward Howe led a "Mother's Day" anti-war observance in 1872, which was accompanied by a Mother's Day Proclamation. The observance continued in Boston for about 10 years under Howe's personal sponsorship, then died out.
Several years later, a Mother's Day observance on May 13, 1877 was held in Albion, Michigan, over a dispute related to the temperance movement. According to local legend, Albion pioneer, Juliet Calhoun Blakeley, stepped up to complete the sermon of the Rev. Myron Daughterty, who was distraught because an anti-temperance group had forced his son and two other temperance advocates to spend the night in a saloon and become publicly drunk. In the pulpit, Blakeley called on other mothers to join her. Blakeley's two sons, both traveling salesmen, were so moved that they vowed to return each year to pay tribute to her and embarked on a campaign to urge their business contacts to do likewise. At their urging, in the early 1880s, the Methodist Episcopal Church in Albion set aside the second Sunday in May to recognize the special contributions of mothers.
In its present form, Mother's Day was established by Anna Marie Jarvis, following the death of her mother on May 9, 1905; she campaigned to establish Mother's Day as a U.S. national, and later an international, holiday.
Originally the Andrew's Methodist Episcopal Church, the site of the original Mother's Day commemoration, where Anna handed out carnations, the International Mother's Day Shrine is now a National Historic Landmark. From there, the custom caught on—spreading eventually to 46 states. The holiday was declared officially by some states as early as 1912, beginning with West Virginia. On May 8, 1914, the U.S. Congress passed a law designating the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day and requesting a proclamation. On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made that proclamation, declaring the first national Mother's Day, as a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war.
Carnations /flowers have come to represent Mother's Day, since they were delivered at one of its first celebrations by its founder. This also started the custom of wearing a carnation on Mother's Day. The founder, Anna Jarvis, chose the carnation because it was the favorite flower of her mother. In part due to the shortage of white carnations, and in part due to the efforts to expand the sales of more types of flowers in Mother's Day, the florists promoted wearing a red carnation if your mother was living, or a white one if she was dead; this was tirelessly promoted until it made its way into the popular observations at churches.
In May 2008, the US House of Representatives voted twice on a resolution commemorating Mother's Day, the first one being unanimous so that all congressmen would be on record showing support for Mother's Day.
In the United States, "Mother's Day Work Clubs" were organized by Anna Jarvis's mother, Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis (1832-1905), to improve sanitation and health in the area. These clubs also assisted both Union and Confederate encampments controlling a typhoid outbreak, and conducted a "Mothers' Friendship Day" to reconcile families divided by the Civil War.