Mother’s Day was one of the first holidays honored with a specific U.S. stamp, long predating stamps for the likes of Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Anna Jarvis, of West Virginia, started campaigning for a mothers holiday in 1905, the year her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, a peace activist who cared for Civil War soldiers from both sides, died. In 1908, Anna Jarvis held a church memorial for her mother and by 1911, thanks in part to Jarvis’ campaigning, all states observed Mother’s Day in some form or another.
President Woodrow Wilson in 1914 signed a proclamation officially authorizing Mother’s Day as a holiday on the second Sunday in May. Jarvis had great disdain for the quick commercialization of the holiday. She also noted that the word “Mother’s” should be a singular possessive, meaning for each family to honor its own mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world.
In 1933, Mrs. H.H. McCluer, of Kansas City, a past National President of the American War Mothers, lobbied first-term President Franklin D. Roosevelt for a special stamp for use in conjunction with Mother’s Day mail. Requests also had been made for a stamp noting the 100th birthday of artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler. FDR, a stamp collector, liked both ideas and sent a design idea to his new postmaster general, James A. Farley. FDR’s design that combined themes, which is very close to the final product, can be seen on the National Postal Museum website.
The stamp (Scott 737) was issued nationwide May 2, 1934 for use on Mother’s Day mail and in tribute to the Mothers of America. It shows a reproduction of Whistler’s painting, Portrait of My Mother, also known as An Arrangement in Grey and Black, and popularly called Whistler’s Mother. Two perforated varieties of this stamp were produced, each on a different press. One is a perforation gauge 11 by 10½ rotary stamp, the other a perforation 11 flat plate stamp.
Was this the first major U.S. holiday stamp? Some might argue that the Columbians of 1893 helped mark Columbus Day or that the Washington Bicentennial set of 1932 coincides with George Washington’s birthday, then still a holiday marked on February 22. This blog author doesn’t buy into either of those concepts as the stamps marked centennials for individuals, not holidays.
Arbor Day, first celebrated in 1872 Nebraska, received a U.S. stamp in 1932, and is celebrated internationally, but has in many places in the U.S. given way to Earth Day.
On April 20, 1987, the Postal Service issued a Special Occasions booklet of 22-cent stamps with six different sentiments, including Love You, Mother! and Love You, Dad! Despite the misplaced commas that make it look like mom and dad are saying “love you,” even the pickiest of copy editors are known to have sent cards to their mothers and fathers franked with the appropriate stamp with the obvious sentiment.