Category Archives: Motherhood

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. 

Oklahoma Mothers

Vera Connell Bennett, 1889-1951

This quiet but strong Oklahoma mother was my great grandmother, the woman I am named after and well, she was the first Oklahoma Mother of the Year. I had no idea about that recognition until I read it in a book about Mothers of Achievement in American History. At the end of the anthology, which contained stories of famous women in every state, it also contained a list of every Mother of the Year since 1935 – which by itself, was a pretty cool listing. Naturally, I flipped to the state of Oklahoma and there was my great grandmother’s name – listed as the first Mother of the Year named in Oklahoma by the American Mothers Committee of the Golden Rule Foundation.

At the time, she was the biological mother to 5 children but also the mother to an entire college community. Her husband of 30 years was the President of Oklahoma A & M University (now Oklahoma State) and they lived in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Both Vera Connell and her husband, Henry G. Bennett, were educators. They met when he was the Superintendent of Schools in Hugo, Oklahoma and she was applying for a teaching position in Boswell. Both were big advocates of the public library system and believed the library should be the focal point of every college campus. This certainly applied at Oklahoma A&M. Anyone who has walks on that campus today would agree the library holds an enchanting presence on the lawn and quietly encourages a love of learning. We have taken lots of family photos over the years on that campus by a statue of my grandad which overlooks the Library Lawn. Here are a few of them.

Vera Connell Bennett is described as being of strong character with an independent mind. She made lists for Henry G. and the kids every morning which most likely was her quiet way of pushing them toward the high aspirations and goals she had set for them. I write of this only because I am a list maker too and since I share her unusual name, I smile knowing this trait has successfully been passed down albeit skipping a few generations!

History has recorded the close partnership that Henry G. and Vera Connell Bennett maintained throughout their marriage until their untimely death in a plane crash in Tehran, 1951. Henry G. was serving as the Undersecretary of State under President Truman and overseeing the 4 Point Program to help build nation states post WWII. They had been in Ethiopia and traveling to Iran when their plane went down. The State Department records indicate their bodies were found next to one another, having been ejected from the plane when it crashed into a mountainside, unable to find the runway in a snowstorm.

Just a little bit of history about an influential, Oklahoma mother.

Global Mom Power

I spent a few days this week attending the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York as a delegate for American Mothers, Inc. This organization has been an NGO (non-governmental organization) at the United Nations since Mamie Eisenhower was the First Lady and as such, can take a delegation of up to 20 women to attend this event each year. In the case of my organization, we take moms, because that is what we are all about. This year, there were eight of us attending -representing all parts of the country…Delaware, Illinois, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Puerto Rico…

We attended numerous panel discussions covering a broad range of topics.

The UN has little boxes with headsets available in case the panelists speak a different language. Laughing as I type because it’s the UN and everyone speaks a different language! Anyway, my friend Kim and I sat in on panel sponsored by the Foreign Minister of Morocco about social protection mechanisms and took full advantage of those little boxes.

Looks like our friends, Emily and Nadine did the same. Although the subject matter of the panel was nothing to smile about really.

Thank goodness the opening remarks from Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason (Ireland), were in English because there was a shortage of headsets! As far as opening sessions go, her comments were solid considering the status of women worldwide varies from country to country. In fact, our group sat in on a session about women and the media, and those variances in status were evident.

Our delegation was also able to attend a special reception sponsored by UN Women.

The really cool part about this reception is that everyone is encouraged to wear their native dress.

The Ukrainian women own the art of embroidery. Their attire was lovely to look at and just as interesting as the members of their delegation.

Enjoyed a brief visit with a soft spoken woman from the Congo. What makes this reception stand out is the attire. You seriously want to meet everyone there and learn what issues impact moms in their country- the outfits make for the perfect icebreaker!

Lucky Kuar Gill was the most beautiful soul from Canada. Pictured here in her native dress from India, she told us how she was married off at a young age by her parents and had children while in her teens. She was able to move to Canada where she started Global Girl Power. Look it up and follow this inspirational woman. Her story was moving and powerful and will hopefully encourage other young women who have been oppressed. She spoke on a mental health panel earlier in the day that some members of our delegation attended, so we were at no loss for words with her.

On a side note, and probably a highlight was getting to meet former French President, Francois Hollande.

My group was in the hotel bar trying to determine which amazing New York restaurant we were going to hit up for dinner while the former French President was filming a segment for a news outlet. As we watched him woo his audience, we plotted on how to grab a picture with him. Fortunately, my friend Kim speaks beautiful French and asked (in French of course) if this group of American Moms could have a photo.

He was very kind and gave us a lovely sentiment in French: ‘Le meres Americaines les gens important.’ That even he knows how important the mothers of America are….

So I’m gonna overlook the fact that he left office with the worst approval ratings in French history and a scandalous affair because he was spot on about American moms. Bien Fait Monsieur