“As a woman leader, I thought I brought a different kind of leadership. I was interested in women’s issues, in bringing down the population growth rate… as a woman, I entered politics with an additional dimension – that of a mother.”
Famous Motherhood Figures
There have been many famous mothers throughout history. Most have become famous not for being mothers, but for their own worldly accomplishments in politics and the arts and sciences. For example, Marie Curie was a famous mother, but her fame was achieved through her scientific research and discoveries. Her mothering skills are rarely discussed, but she is revered as a martyr for science, as her death was attributed to her research of the effects of radiation. One reason many famous women who are mothers aren’t elevated to the status of motherhood figures is that they often have to hire others to assist them with child care.
The list of women who are famous for no other reason than their being mothers is relatively short in comparison. Such motherhood figures have served as role models for other mothers. Sometimes women are elevated to the status of motherhood figures based on the accomplishments of their children. An example of this would be that of Rose Kennedy. She was one of America’s most revered motherhood figures because of the education and values she provided her children, two of whom grew up to be President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Barbara Bush, wife of former President George H.W. Bush and mother of President George W. Bush is another example. As the mother of six children, she established the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.
Some women become motherhood figures due to their heroic actions on behalf of their children. Candy Lightner could be considered an example of this. After her 13-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver, founded the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). She became a symbol of motherly concern for the welfare of children and was instrumental in creating legislation that resulted in more stringent laws against drinking and driving. She also served as president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. For her strength in transforming her personal tragedy into life-saving laws for other children, she was given the President’s Volunteer Action Award and an honorary doctorate in humanities and public service.
Sometimes, as in the case of Angelina Jolie, the heroic actions that elevate them to the status of motherhood figures are on behalf of disadvantaged children not biologically their own. In addition to her three biological children, Jolie has three adopted children. She has also been politically active in improving the lives of mothers and children around the world as an ambassador. Her work was instrumental in creating legislation that resulted in the “Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act of 2005”. In 2015, a global survey conducted in 23 countries found her to be the most admired woman in the world.
One of the most famous motherhood figures in the U.S. was Mary Harris Jones, also known as “Mother Jones”. Mother Jones, a union organizer at the turn of the 20th century, encouraged the wives of striking workers to organize in support of living wages that would allow them to feed their children. After being imprisoned several times, she was invited to speak before John D. Rockefeller Jr. on the deplorable working conditions of miners. He subsequently instituted reforms. She is still honored today by the popular magazine dedicated to social justice that bears her name.
In Britain, suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst was one of the motherhood figures at the turn of the century, and a contemporary of Mother Jones. Despite being the mother of five children, in 1903 Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). The organization began by using peaceful protests, but when frustrated by a lack of progress in women being granted the right to vote, resorted to smashing windows and even arson. In jail, she organized hunger strikes in protest of the conditions. Happily, she lived long enough to see women’s right to vote passed into law in 1928.
Whether in art, politics, or science, women’s actions have always been inspired and guided by their dual roles as mothers and guardians of the future.