Our series “Celebrating Motherhood” shares inspiring stories, helpful advice, and insightful recommendations for choosing the perfect gifts to express your love for moms of all types.
With Mother’s Day coming up on May 9, we’ve been thinking about all the incredible moms across the globe who have made a positive impact on society. To honor these women who accomplished amazing feats and changed the world, we put together a list of some of the most impressive female figures in history who also happened to be admirable moms (there are so many of them; see our first list of amazing moms in history here.
But although the most impactful women in history get credit for being incredible leaders, history books usually fail to mention that they were also mothers. Why is that?
“I think it’s important to keep in mind that there wasn’t much of a choice about whether a woman was going to be a mother or not in earlier times,” says Mary Dillard, Ph.D., director of graduate studies in women’s history at Sarah Lawrence College.
It’s often hard to separate the image of a mother from just being a nurturer — that’s a powerful image.
Director of Graduate Studies in Women’s History
Sarah Lawrence College
“That, of course, does not mean these women didn’t want their children, just that the time was different. I think one of the largest reasons that important, historical women aren’t often recognized for both their historical accomplishments and their motherhood is that, in history, it’s not usually something that’s noted. Even with men, genealogy and parenthood aren’t discussed unless they’re pertinent to what happens after them — a political dynasty, for example.
Further, Mary believes these details about powerful women could sometimes be left out intentionally, to separate the image from strictly nurturing.
“It’s often hard to separate the image of a mother from just being a nurturer — that’s a powerful image,” she says. “To emphasize these aspects of these famous women could have the potential to undermine the focus of the things they did.”
Today, we want to look at these powerful women in history to recognize their accomplishments with this in mind — they were mothers, too.
Three amazing historical figures who happened to be mothers, too
These women were leaders, influencers, and women who made differences so substantial they altered the course of history — and through it all, they were dedicated and determined mothers, to their own children and beyond.
Julia Ward Howe
A famous abolitionist, suffragist, writer, and beyond, Julia Ward Howe is perhaps best known as the co-founder of the American Woman Suffrage Association. Though her own mother died when she was just five in 1824, she had a strong, motherly influence in the form of her aunt who exposed her to languages, science, literature, and of course, poetry — something she became famous for. It’s purely speculation, but it’s said this impact from her aunt influenced her own take on motherhood for her six children.
One of the most notable things about Julia Ward Howe? She authored the Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World — a pacifist reaction that would later become infamously known as the Mother’s Day Proclamation. In this proclamation, Julia appeals to all women to unite for peace in the world, furthering the initial vision of Mother’s Day in the U.S. for women to “rise up through the ashes and devastation” to stand with a message of peace, honor, and support for mother’s who’d lost sons and husbands in the wake of the Civil War.
Marie Curie is best known for being the first woman to ever win a Nobel Prize in Physics and Chemistry — something that led to her other notable distinction as the first person to claim Nobel honors twice. A champion in the development of X-rays (due to her discovery of polonium and radium), she was a pioneer in the study of radiation.
Though Marie is known as the mother of physics, she also played another enormously important role: a mother. Marie had a husband she loved dearly, but he died shortly after her second child was born — leaving her to raise the children on her own. Not only did she raise and guide her two daughters, but also took it upon herself to homeschool her children, passing along her brilliance. One of her daughters even followed in her footsteps, working alongside her mother and receiving military honors for her work. Marie died in 1934.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Considered to be one of the leading figures of the early women’s rights movement in the 19th century, Elizabeth Cady Stanton is best known for her dedicated efforts in writing the Declaration of Sentiments for the Seneca Falls Convention as well as organizing the women’s suffrage movement in the United States. Though the suffrage movement was one of her top priorities, Stanton was a dedicated mother to her seven children.
It’s said that it was her love for her children meshed with her frustration of being confined to the home (due to the time period) that motivated her to fight so hard against what she called the “absolute tyranny” men had held women in — she fought for women to own property, the right to vote, the right to divorce husbands without losing custody of children, to earn wages, and much more.
Elizabeth is one of the most prominent figures in the women’s rights movements as well as a devoted mother who wanted to fight for a world with a much more level playing field for her children and others.