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.
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.