President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed May 9, 1914, the first Mother's Day. He asked Americans on that day to give a public "thank you" to their mothers and all mothers.

Mother's Day began when Anna Jarvis, of Philadelphia, wanted to remember her own mother along with all mothers. Anna's mother had been very active in working to improve the health of people in her community. Jarvis's mother also organized a Mother's Friendship event in her community to bring confederate and union soldiers together for a peaceful celebration. Many other women such as Julia Ward Howe, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Elizabeth Smith also fought for peace and encouraged mothers to speak out. Anna Jarvis convinced her mother's church to celebrate Mother's Day on the anniversary of her mother's death, and campaigned for a national day honoring mothers. Jarvis started the tradition of wearing a carnation on Mother's Day – colored if your mother was living, and white if she was not.

On May 11, 1913 the Members of the House of Representatives wore white carnations to honor American mothers in the Capitol's first observance of Mother’s Day. Representative James Heflin of Alabama introduced House Resolution 103 on May 10th requesting President Woodrow Wilson, members of his Cabinet, the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, and other federal officials to don white carnations, "or some other white flower," to honor mothers for being "the greatest source of our country’s strength and inspiration." The tradition of wearing white carnations (and later red carnations) spread across the nation. The Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., adorned its lobby with vases of white carnations, as did many restaurants in the capital city.

With the positive response to the 1913 resolution, Heflin introduced formal legislation in 1914, designating the second Sunday in May Mother’s Day. Heflin’s 1914 resolution made no mention of carnations, but requested that the U.S. flag be displayed at government offices, homes, and businesses across the country, "as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country." After quickly passing the House and being directed through the Senate by former Representative Morris Sheppard of Texas, the bill went to the President’s desk on May 8th, and became law that same day.

Mother's Day spread around the world, celebrated with gifts, visits, and flowers. But Anna Jarvis was not happy that Mother's Day became so commercialized.

"This is not what I intended. I wanted a day of sentiment, not profit," said Jarvis.

The mother of Mother's Day died in 1948, at the age of 84, regretting that she had ever started Mother's Day.