Mother of the Year

Yes! There really is an official Mother of the Year award and the story behind it is truly beautiful. The following is an excerpt from a book I am writing about the history of this historic recognition. Enjoy!

I have always wanted to write about moms! I think the role mothers play in the world is probably one of the most significant, yet at the same time given the least amount of recognition.

While the importance of that role and the impact mothers have on the fabric of our society is often overlooked, American Mothers, Inc., an organization rich in history, has championed mothers for over 85 years.

Historically, the recognition of mothers has taken place since the turn of the 20th century with the inception of a national holiday in 1914. Yet, by the 1930s many felt the holiday had become commercialized with florists selling white and red carnations across the country to symbolize appreciation of mothers. There was discussion among a group in New York that a better way to observe Mother’s Day could be achieved. 

In March of 1931, Eleanor Roosevelt announced the formation of a nation wide program for a better observance of Mother’s Day to help mothers and children in need. A national committee, sponsored by JC Penny’s Golden Rule Foundation was established to create a Golden Rule Mothers’ Fund.

The idea of a fund to help mothers and children was well received and by 1933, the American Mothers Committee of the Golden Rule Foundation was launched in 30 states with 8 Governors acting as chairman. The Committee used the slogan, ’In honor of mother – help other mothers.’ The charitable giving fund provided assistance to organizations helping mothers and children and promoted charity as an alternative way to celebrate Mother’s Day – the Golden Rule Way.

“They are praying not for flowers, but flour. Not for books and candy, but for bread. Not for greeting cards, telegrams and messages of love, but for food, clothes, medicine and the sheer necessities of life.” 

Sara Delano Roosevelt, Honorary Chairman, American Mothers Committee.

It is a beautiful story and one with a lasting impact.

By 1935, the American Mothers Committee officially organized as a division of J.C. Penny’s Golden Rule Foundation and would name the first American Mother of the Year. Lucy Keen Johnson of Georgia was presented the honor by Sara Delano Roosevelt, the committee’s Honorary Chairman at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. Lucy was a widowed mother of 6 children and the Dean of Women at Wesleyan college.  Her recognition was to symbolize the strength and resilience of the American mother and provide inspiration to the nation. In fact, at the time Lucy was honored she was raising her newborn granddaughter, as her own daughter had recently died during childbirth. 

Under the Golden Rule Foundation, the American Mother’s Committee was recognized as the official sponsor of Mother’s Day by the United State’s Chamber of Commerce emphasizing the important role of mothers in the home, the community, the nation and the world. Sara Delano Roosevelt, the President’s mother, served as the Honorary Chairman until her death in 1941. 

By 1943 – state committees had been established to search for a Mother of the Year. The criteria used had to meet the following six qualifications: 

First – that she be a successful mother as evidenced by the character and achievements of her children.

Second – that she be an active member of a religious body.

Third – that she embody these traits highly regarded in mothers: courage, cheerfulness, patience, affection, kindness, understanding and  a homemaking ability.

Fourth – that she exemplify in her life and conduct the precepts of the golden rule.

Fifth – that she have a sense of responsibility in civic affairs and that she be active in service for the public benefit.

Sixth – that she be qualified to represent the mothers of America in all responsibilities attached to her role as the National Mother of the Year.

The organization was truly on the cutting edge of American society with it’s Mother of the Year award recognition program and there were lots of firsts:

The first mother of color was named the American Mother of the Year in 1946 (Emma Clement from Kentucky – who was an incredible champion for human rights).

The first Native American mother in 1950 (Elizabeth Roe Cloud from Oregon – whose passion for education helped elevate members of her native population).

The first Asian mother in 1952 (Toy Len Goon from the State of Maine – who as a widow with 8 children, continued to operate the family’s successful laundry business).

The first step mother with no biological children of her own received the Mother of the Year recognition in 1953 (Ethlyn Bott from St. Louis, Missouri).

The first Jewish mother was selected in 1959 (Jeannie Loitman Barron – mother of three daughters and the first woman associate justice appointed to the Massachusetts Superior Court).

Also – in 1952, the organization recognized an International Mother (Señora Gonzalez Videla from Chile for her civic work to improve the health conditions of her people). 

In addition to the First Lady of Chile, other International mothers were recognized by the committee: Mrs. John Glenn, Senior was recognized in 1962 – for the values established in her American home as reflected in her son, America’s first orbital astronaut, John Glenn, and in 1974 – Golda Meir, the past premier of Israel was recognized for her role in peace making. The famous actress Irene Dunn, was also recognized by the committee for her humanitarian work at the United Nations and her portrayal of mothers in the film, I Remember Mama.

The international perspective was a reflection of Mamie Eisenhower’s involvement with the American Mothers Committee in her role as Honorary Chairman of the group. Under her leadership, the organization became involved at the United Nations and recognition was given to mothers who were leaders in their fields of work. The American Mothers Committee would continue to work internationally to establish Mother’s Day as a national holiday in countries where there was no recognition and worked to implement a national mother of the year program as well. Mrs. Eisenhower is pictured with the Mothers Hall of Fame plaque that hangs in the Waldorf Astoria, listing the name of every Mother of the Year who had been given the National title.

By 1976, the year of America’s Bi-Centennial, the American Mothers Committee had published a book that featured prominent mothers in every state. It was distributed to every Governor and libraries across the country including the Library of Congress. That book was called Mothers in Achievement in American History and in 2012, American Mothers would recognize Mothers of Achievement from across the country with an award by the same name.   

Regardless of the programs or projects taken on by the organization over the years, one thing remained constant, the annual recognition of a mother who was meant to inspire. The award, Mother of the Year has been a registered trademark of American Mothers since 1981 and continues to be presented to mothers across the country each spring, just before Mother’s Day.  Anyone can nominate a mother for this award, and nominations open annually on Mother’s Day. While qualifications have not strayed TOO far from the original inception, the honor remains just as significant and important in its purpose as it is humbling for those recognized by it today. 

About Last Night

Back in 2002 when my Senator was first elected to the State Senate, I thought it would be fun to invite some of his new colleagues over for a “senate” dinner. My former boss was notorious for gathering members from both parties together in his home for fireside chats in Washington DC and I saw how important that was in terms of relationship building. I figured that same concept might be helpful to my Senator as he entered a new political frontier at our State Capitol.

For this inaugural dinner, we decided to gather the newly elected freshman members and their spouses together in our home because this group, consisting of both Republicans and Democrats from all parts of the state, were entering the legislative session as rookies or rather a pledge class of sorts and relatively “new” to politics. Oh, and we decided to include the Governor and his wife because he had previously served in the State Senate and that would just be a cool thing to do.

There were a total of 18 in attendance that year and 16 of us waited over an hour for the newly elected Governor to arrive. Since we really didn’t know each other that well, imagine a living room full of adults, ranging in age from 26 to 64, differing political parties, from both urban and rural communities making small talk and sipping on a glass of wine (or two), waiting and waiting for the Governor. It’s safe to assume friendships were formed that evening while we anxiously dined around the table.

That next legislative session, we decided to have another Senate dinner because the first one was so much fun. But honestly, Cliff felt so fortunate that the State Capitol was located in our home town and we could entertain his colleagues. The close proximity which allowed him to return home each night, see the kids and sleep in his own bed forced many of his colleagues to crash in hotel rooms or shared apartments away from their families during those weeks the legislature was in session.

Our senate dinner was evolving into a casual, home cooked meal and a living room to hang out in, watch some Thunder basketball, play a game of pool or converse about some of the crazy happening at the Capitol. And, it was so nice to be able to do that. This pic was taken in roughly 2012 or 2013?

So, we continued to do this most every year that Cliff served in the Senate. Same menu, same living room, various groupings of members from across the state. The guest list was always a mix of Republicans and Democrats but we kept it members only (meaning no lobbyists or executive assistants or even spouses. Well, except me because I was in charge of cooking the dinner. But, we wanted it to be casual, comfortable and a place where they could unwind and solve all the state’s problems without the noise. The following pic is vintage 2011.

As term limits took effect, we thought it would be nice to continue the tradition but also to include some former members at our senate dinner. Especially nice because my Senator was now officially a “former” member. The atmosphere and menu remained the same, complete with a dose of lively conversation, laughter, late nights and story telling. (next pic is circa 2021)

SO, about last night… we held what could possibly be our 19th or 20th? annual Senate dinner amidst all the chaos currently happening at the Capitol and it was a complete and total blast! Old and new faces from across the state, laughing and carrying on… forming relationships that I am confident will be beneficial in some form or fashion for Oklahoma. I love being a fly on that wall and hearing some of the war stories from past legislative sessions.

And, there were definitely stories being told!

Just give me a home, where the buffalo roam…

A few weekends ago, the Senator and I woke up at dark thirty and headed North to the Tallgrass Prairie in Osage County for a little adventure. About this time each year, the Nature Conservancy rounds up the “Bison” who live on the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve to get an accurate head count, provide them with vaccinations and tag any newborns who were born during the year. In order to keep the numbers manageable for the land, some are then sold at auction (think bison burgers) and others donated to Native American tribes up North who also herd these animals on their land. The fate of each individual bison is based on their sex and age when they are rounded up annually and their tag is scanned as they go through the chute.

It was a very high tech operation, but it’s not a very pleasant process to watch. And, they give you that disclaimer right up front! The first bison I watched come through the chute had lost his horn and there was a lot of blood. I don’t have a picture of that.

If you noticed I swapped out the word buffalo for bison there’s a reason for that! The animals who roam the great plains of North America are technically called “Bison,” while the term “buffalo” refers to the Water Buffalo found in Southeast Asia. I’m not sure I knew that distinction, but then, this road trip was already a learning adventure! The folks at the Nature Conservancy shared so much information with us about the Tallgrass Prairie and their efforts to restore the land and its inhabitants back to the original factory conditions, it felt like we earned college credit.

It was fascinating to watch the process. It was also windy and cold up on the prairie but not for the bison. They are equipped with the thickest of coats.

A huge shout out to the folks at the Nature Conservancy for sharing their admirable work with the public and to my dad, for arranging our educational field trip. Ending the day in Pawhuska truly iced the cake. Especially when you befriend a cute dog at the local watering hole.

If you’re looking for a fun activity in northern Oklahoma, not far from the Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile and Pawhuska, take a drive through the tall grass prairie where you might catch a glimpse of the American Bison who reside there.