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A 1918 Say it with flowers FTD magazine advertisement of a woman holding flowers
"Say it with Flowers" Mother's Day FTD Campaign from May 4, 1918 Literary Digest

Say it with flowers

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In observance of Mother’s Day many of us in the United States will be buying and sending flowers to the mothers in our lives.  You might not know it, but this tradition of sending flowers started back in the early 1900’s before ‘Mother’s Day’ was proclaimed.

Anna M. Jarvis, 1864-1948, half length portrait, facing slightly right. Founder of Mother’s Day

The connection of flowers to Mother’s Day can partially be attributed to its founder Anna Jarvis, who began wearing a white carnation (her mother’s favorite flower) to honor her mother, who died in 1905.  Miss Jarvis expanded her mission of using flowers, specifically white carnations, by donating five hundred of them to honor the mothers of the Andrews congregation in her hometown of Grafton, West Virginia for the local observance of Mother’s Day.

To Miss Jarvis’ delight  Mother’s Day “broke out” across the country and supporters all over were clamoring for white carnations. The April 27, 1911 issue of Weekly Florists’ Review wrote that Anna Jarvis suggested the white carnation as the Mother’s Day flower, and quoted Jarvis as saying “Its whiteness stands for purity, its form, beauty, and its fragrance love, its wide field of growth charity; its lasting qualities, faithfulness- all a true mother’s attributes.” (“Mothers’ Day and the Florist,” p.7)

And so it began, the demand and sales of white carnations sky-rocketed and florists could not keep these flowers in stock. In effect, the Weekly Florist s’ Review suggested that florists promote white flowers for mothers who have passed away, and bright flowers for mothers living.  It would be an understatement to say that this was much to the displeasure of Miss Jarvis.

Meanwhile, the celebration of Mother’s Day was gaining federal support. Congress passed the first Mother’s Day resolution, with no objections.  House Resolution 103 on May 10, 1913 stated “that as a token of our love and reverence for the mother, the President and his Cabinet, United States Senators, Representatives of the House, and all officials of the Federal Government are hereby requested to wear a white carnation [emphasis added] or some other white flower Sunday, May 11, in observance of Mother’s Day.” (Mother’s Day, H.Res. 103, Congressional Record 50:2, May 10, 1913: p. 1478)

1911Advertisement suggesting the use of white flowers to honor Mother's memory and bright flowers for Mothers living
Wear a Flower for Mother’s Day: White flower for Mother’s memory and bright flowers for Mothers living. From Weekly Florists’ Review, April 27, 1911. p. 7.

In the following year, on May 8, 1914, Congress approved a joint resolution designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day, and for other purposes (38 Stat. 770-771, Public Resolution 63-25 / Chapter , 63 Congress, Session 2, Joint Resolution) and on May 9, 1914  President Wilson issued a proclamation asking Americans to give public expression of reverence to mothers through the celebration of Mothers’ Day.

Significantly for the flower retailing industry, in 1910, the” Flower Wire Service,” headed by the newly formed Florists’ Telegraph Delivery group (FTD) — currently known as the Florists’ Transworld Delivery group — had been established.  The “Flower Wire Service” enabled florists to exchange orders with other florists across the country making it possible to send mothers flowers from afar.  In 1918, FTD put out the extremely popular slogan, “Say it With Flowers” for its Mother’s Day campaign.

Using the Library of Congress early trade publications and association proceedings, we can trace ideas such as the emerging observance of Mother’s Day through advertising materials and articles. By looking through back issues of floriculture and florist trade periodicals such as Florists’ Exchange, American Florist, Weekly Florists’ Review, as well as the Proceedings from the Society of American Florists, one can gain a perspective on how this holiday became commercially successful, popular, and how we have come to celebrate Mother’s Day with flowers. Within these trade publications you can uncover little tidbits and statements such as  “Mother’s Day as a flower-giving anniversary depends entirely on the organized florist trade (April 27, 1918 issue of Florists’ Exchange,p.868)”

Suggestion for a Mother’s Day Newspaper advertisement- May 5, 1917 The Florists’ Exchange, p. 1045.

More on Mother’s Day

America’s Library: The First Mother’s Day

In the Muse Performing Arts Blog: Songs for Mother

Johnson, James. How mother got her day. American Heritage, v. 30 April/May 1979: 15-21.

Mother’s Day letter campaign for World War I soldiers. Mother’s Letter Plan. Stars and Stripes.  May 3, 1918.: front page.  “All the powers that be—including even the company censors—will move Heaven and Earth to speed those particular letters on their way…

Today in History: Mother’s Day


Comments (7)

  1. I agree! the simplest thing to show care for love ones is to give flowers. If not for this blog I have forgotten its mothers day today. Thank you for updating me..

  2. Mother’s day is celebrated not only on the date but it should be everyday.

  3. aggree with rafael

    its the same way we look at valentine day..
    we should loving everyday..


  4. It is a great day to honor mom’s, but should be everyday! Besides I call all these holidays the “candy/florist holidays”. Where is it written except in the above — that we have to give candy flowers?? The candy/florist business of course. 🙂

  5. I have five old 16-inch single-sided records that are radio broadcast sponsored by say it with flowers I think these records are around 1931 Henri gendron and his time blossom orchestra the fall flower festival volumes 1 through 5 I am meeting any information available on these records if anybody has heard of them I believe they are linked to early say it with flowers advertisement

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