Happy Mother’s Day to one and all! In celebration of the holiday, here is a collection of brief anecdotes (in our own words) about the amazing mothers, grandmothers and other influential women who have inspired the NWHM staff. We hope you enjoy them.
My mom’s mother, Sophia, came to the US around 1900 to escape the potato famine in Poland when she was just 16 and went to work in a cotton mill in a village in upstate NY called NY Mills. She met and married my grandfather there and they bought a house where I lived with my parents. We affectionately called her the shortened version of babushka, Baba, and she and Dziedzuwere also able to purchase a local tavern where I remember playing with my doll when the villagers would come in for the Friday fish fry as most were Catholic and did not eat meat back in those days. I remember Baba planting potatoes and vegetables and tending her flowers while I climbed the backyard tree or was on the swing. My mom and Baba carried on the Polish traditions, including cooking a meatless Christmas Eve dinner with borsch, pierogies and cabbage. After working as a secretary for many years, my mom is now 92 and I visited her and dad this Easter; I have been and am truly blessed to have been raised by these inspiring women. ____________________________________________________________
My Mom taught me that being polite and respectful of everyone was not only the right way to be but the only way to be. She taught me something as simple as a smile or a kind word can change someone’s day. She taught me that it’s ok to cry because laughter will come again. She taught me that no matter where I go or what I do, her prayers will go before me. She has supported everything I have ever done, but always gives me her opinion even if I don’t necessarily want to hear it. Her wisdom and faith have been the guiding light for her three daughters for as long as I can remember. The depth of her love and devotion for her family cannot be measured. I am grateful for the memories we have made together and for those yet to be made.
Mothers and mother figures hold a profound power—within them lies the capacity to inspire dreams in the hearts and minds of wide-eyed and fledgling young women. When I was a young girl, there were three women who inspired those very dreams in my world—my mother, Elizabeth Bennett (yes, I’m aware that she is a fictional character), and my Aunt Judy. Aunt Judy, or AJ as I affectionately call her, was the quintessential “cool” aunt whose adventurous spirit stirred in me a desire to live as boundlessly and abundantly as she had. I can vividly remember summer trips in her red Toyota Corolla to Assateague Island, Mammoth Caverns or across the country, and being spellbound as she regaled me with the stories she’d created over her lifetime. She’s driven across the vast landscapes of our country a dozen times by herself, traveled extensively around the world, survived earthquakes, a volcanic eruption, lived through the turbulent 1960s and was one of the first black students to integrate American University. Her effortless grace, wit and comfort in her own skin are qualities that I admire and aspire to adopt into the way I live. And now as I approach my 26th year of life, I hope that I can one day inspire dreams in my own nieces, as my AJ did for me. ___________________________________________________________
One memory that I love more and more the older I get, occurred when I was probably around 8 years old. My mom had read “The Hobbit” and the first two books of “The Lord of the Rings” series by J.R.R. Tolkien to me and we were well into the third book when we decided that I was the point where I could read well enough to brave this more challenging piece of literature. I was a page or two in, when all of a sudden I looked up at my mom in confusion and said, “Why does this say ‘he’ in reference to Gandalf? Gandalf’s a woman…” My mother, looking a bit chagrined, explained to me that she thought there weren’t enough strong female characters in the book so she had been reading Gandalf, the wizard, and Sam, Frodo’s companion as women the whole time. Needless to say, my mind was a bit blown – I wasn’t sure you could do that (didn’t it break some unspoken rule?). But after I got over my initial shock, we continued to read the books with a female Sam and Gandalf. My mother not only created strong, fictional female role models for me but raised me to believe that I could do and be anything I set my mind to, without being ignorant of the fact that this was only recently possible for women. My mother is one of the many reasons why I support and strongly believe in the necessity for the National Women’s History Museum. _____________________________________________________________
In 1965, my boyfriend Michael and I (we were four years old) were taken by our mothers to audition for Romper Room, a national television show which featured pre-schoolers. We were each interviewed on camera by the host, a well-put-together woman known as Miss Nancy. Michael was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. He replied that he wanted to be a fireman. My turn came, and when I announced that I wanted to be a doctor, Miss Nancy said, “Oh my dear, girls don’t become doctors”. My mother interrupted filming, pulled me out of the shot and through tight lips said to Miss Nancy, “How dare you tell my daughter she can’t be a doctor! She can be anything she wants!” Michael and I were dragged away by our furious mothers and at the time we were both upset that our TV debuts were cut short . But as I have gotten older, that event has been a touchstone for me whenever I doubt myself or think about the struggles modern women still have. My mom, now 75, has been a dietician for over forty years. For her this is a true calling, proof that a woman can manifest what she dreams of. Even now, she drives the rough roads of rural New Mexico weekly, no matter what the weather, to the Zuni Pueblo to care for her patients on kidney dialysis. This she calls “retirement.” She is a powerhouse. And she is my unwavering champion. ____________________________________________________________
One of the most inspiring women in my life was Ada. I met her in California in the early 1970s when she was 88. She marched in the 1913 Women’s Suffrage parade in Washington, DC and inspired me to volunteer for the League of Women Voters. Their family was wealthy, but she was very frugal and caring at the same time. She and the family were very generous philanthropists in an inconspicuous manner. She did her exercise program every day, was very well read on many issues and had a real sense of humor. It was always so wonderful and inspiring to talk with her. One day she asked a favor of me. I was thrilled to do anything for her. She was going in for surgery the next morning and she wanted me to promise “to make sure the Doctors didn’t dally getting her out of the hospital – because she had a final exam at the University next Tuesday”! What a joy – I think of her often today and still feel inspired. _____________________________________________________________
There is no way to even begin to measure or adequately describe the enormous impact my Mom had on me and my life. Her independence and self-confidence came across so naturally in everyday life I thought all mothers were like that only to find out later nothing could be further from the truth. Her wisdom was always shared through discussion in a way that made me feel like I had come up with the “right” solution to the challenge. I was taught that your choices have consequences and/or shape your life and that your deeds and words impact others in addition to yourself. My Mom taught me that being a good listener sometimes is the most intangible gift you could give someone even if they are a stranger. And, I learned that being honorable and standing up for what you believe in, no matter the cost, was the true measure of your character and worth, versus how much money you make or who you know. But one of the most valuable lessons of all that I learned from my Mom was that despite being a girl, I could do anything I wanted in life and be anyone I wanted to become. The only thing that could stop this from happening might be my own fears and if I had them, to face them head on and power through them. Needless to say, these are just a few of the invaluable lessons I still remember and rely on today. ____________________________________________________________
My mother has dedicated thirty years of her life as a nurse and continuously places others first. As if being a nurse was not enough, a few years ago my mother became interested in collecting and distributing monarch butterflies to people. What started off as a hobby quickly developed into something more: she would give these butterflies to those who had been touched by sickness or tragedy. My mother found that by giving away these tiny creatures it brought joy and hope to their lives. As a teenager, you often find the things your mother does peculiar, and at first I did not quite understand why she did it. Now as a young adult, I truly appreciate my mother’s thoughtfulness and selflessness. Her requests for butterflies increase every year (last year she collected over 150 caterpillars!). As my mother has instilled in me, doing even the smallest gestures for people, such as giving away a butterfly, can touch them in such profound and incredible ways.