196.F Mother Jones Seattle

Motherhood: A Source of Inspiration

“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.”

— Benazir Bhutto

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.

motherhood figures
Mother Jones Seattle

November 25,2016  |

Rose Kennedy

Rose Kennedy or what it takes to be honored with the title of papal countess for exemplary motherhood

“When you hold your baby in your arms the first time, and you think of all the things you can say and do to influence him, it’s a tremendous responsibility. What you do with him can influence not only him, but everyone he meets and not for a day or a month or a year but for time and eternity. I looked on child rearing not only as a work of love and duty but as a profession that was fully as interesting and challenging as any honorable profession in the world and one that demanded the best that I could bring to it.”

Needless to say, Rose Kennedy was often quoted on the subject of motherhood.

Early Life of Rose Kennedy

Of her own upbringing, Rose Kennedy said of her father

“My father was a great innovator in public life, but when it came to raising his daughters, no one could have been more conservative.”

His conservative view was reflected in his refusal to allow her to attend Wellesley College, enrolling her instead at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Boston.

Born Rose Fitzgerald, her father was John Fitzgerald, often called “Honey Fitz”, a politician who served a term as a congressional representatives before becoming the mayor of Boston. She met her future husband, Joseph P. Kennedy, when she was quite young, as their families often spent summer vacations together. Joe and Rose married in 1914 and had nine children together over the next 18 years. He had the additional distinction of becoming the youngest bank president in history.

Having been raised in the political spotlight made her very aware of, and subject to, public opinion. Her Catholic faith was also very important to her. Despite her high expectations for her children, she believed that

“children should be stimulated by their parents to see, touch, know, understand and appreciate”.

In 1951, the Vatican honored her with the title of papal countess in 1951 for “exemplary motherhood and many charitable works“. It was her faith that sustained her through the many losses she endured as a mother.

A Mother’s Anguish

Rosemary, their third daughter, was born with a mental disability, and received a lobotomy in 1941, which later resulted in her having to be institutionalized. Her eldest son, Joe, Jr., who aspired to become president one day, was killed in action in 1941 during a mission for the U.S. Navy when his plane exploded.

Kathleen, another daughter, also died in a plane crash in 1948 while on her way home from Europe. Her death was especially difficult for Rose Kennedy, as they had a great deal in common, such as a love of travel and languages. She felt that Kathleen, nicknamed “Kick” was the child most like her and admired her sense of social justice. In her diaries, Rose Kennedy quotes her daughter as having said

“… in having this high standard of living for a few people, we have trodden a lot of others under foot in this country and in other countries…”

In 1963, her son, and one of the most beloved Presidents of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Just five short years later, her son Robert, a senator, would suffer the same fate. The very next year, her youngest son Theodore was involved in a car accident that resulted in the death of a young woman that resulted in a political scandal because he did not immediately report the accident.

Personal Glimpses of Rose Kennedy

A more complete picture of Rose Kennedy than the mass media and politics afforded was made possible upon the release of her letters and diaries in 2006. These documents paint a picture of a woman struggling to maintain her identity even while putting her own interests and ambitions aside to play a supportive role for her family.

Some of her diary entries make it clear that being a mother of nine was not without its frustrations as well as joys. In a 1972 diary entry, she writes

“When the children needed to be spanked, I often used a ruler, and sometimes a coat hanger, which was often more convenient because in any room there would be a closet and the hangers in them would be right at hand.”

This entry also serves to illustrate the stricter child rearing methods of the era.

Throughout her many triumphs and tragedies as a mother, she remained grateful for all of her experiences, viewing life as a balance between the two.

“…I cannot find in literature or in life many people whose lives we envy. Most of course proceed on a middling course, not many great thrills — the normal number of deaths and disappointments.”

Rose Kennedy, of course, experienced more of both than most. She lived to the age of 104, surrounded by her five remaining children, and 69 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Rose Kennedy
Rose Kennedy with her son, President John F. Kennedy in 1962. Source Wikimedia

August 26,2015  |