5 Superior Mothers
Mothers come in all shapes, forms, classifications, and species. Whether you're a biological mom, an adoptive or foster mom, or some other manner of maternal presence, mental_floss salutes you with the brief tales of five notable mothers. Enjoy!
1. A Whistler-Stop Tour of England
While America was being torn apart by the Civil War, American artist James Whistler was across the ocean in London, pursuing his artistic endeavors. In 1863, his mother, Anna McNeill Whistler, joined him in the British capital. She didn't think much of the bohemian lifestyle her son was living in England, but still, he was her son. She encouraged his painting and entertained his patrons with her Southern cooking. In 1871, the young model that James expected to show for her sitting failed to do so, but as moms often do, Anna saved the day. The 67-year-old woman gamely agreed to pose for her son.
Arrangement in Grey & Black #1: The Artist's Mother has been reproduced and parodied thousands of times since then, making Whistler's mother one of the most recognized models in the world.
2. "Love" Was Her Middle Name (Really)
Gladys Presley was very protective of her only child, and doted heavily on him. She and Elvis often communicated in a strange "baby talk" that only the two of them could understand. They shared a bed until he reached puberty. She sent him to school with his own silverware so he wouldn't catch any germs at lunch. Much like the poignant Bonnie Blue scene in Gone with the Wind, when Gladys passed away, Elvis had her remains lie in state at Graceland for several days. It took the prompting of friends before he was finally cajoled into allowing her body to be removed and buried.
3. Just a Lad from Liverpool
John Lennon's mother, Julia, was very young when she gave birth to the future Beatle. The birth occurred during a World War II bombing blitz, and she was ill-prepared to take care of an infant. Fortunately, Julia's older sister, Mary 'Mimi' Smith, was married to a successful dairy farmer. As she had no children of her own, so she volunteered to become the de facto guardian of little John. John remained in contact with Julia, but by virtue of her childlike, devil-may-care lifestyle, their relationship more closely resembled one of siblings than of mother and child. Aunt Mimi was the one who laid down the law and insisted that John concentrate on his school studies. Julia bought John his first guitar, and Mimi made it clear that she hoped his obsession with music was only a passing phase. She continually lectured him, "The guitar's all right, John, but you'll never make a living with it." When Lennon gained fame as a member of The Beatles, he commissioned a plaque engraved with these words of warning, and presented it to her as a gift.
4. One Hundred and Twenty Little Toes
Lillian Moller Gilbreth was one of the first of what we'd later call "superwomen" - ladies whose lives blended education, work and family during an era when such a balance was unheard of and incredibly difficult to achieve. In 1900, Gilbreth received a B.A. in literature at the University of California, where she addressed her graduating class as the first female commencement speaker in the school's history. She went on to earn her master's degree before marrying her husband, Frank, and starting her family. While caring for four children, she earned a Ph.D. in psychology from Brown University.
Lillian and Frank combined their talents to found a consulting company that specialized in scientific management principles. On the professional side, she concerned herself with the study of the human aspects of time management. And as time progressed, she gained more and more practical experience to use as anecdotal evidence: Eventually, her family grew to include 12 children. Frank died in 1924, leaving Lillian to raise their brood on her own while continuing her studies and keeping the business above water. Amazingly, she persevered. Two years later, she became the first woman to join the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Despite her professional successes, including several patents, most people remember Mrs. Gilbreth as the matriarch in the 1948 book (and 1950 film) Cheaper by the Dozen.
5. Scarlett, The Fearless Fire Cat
Whenever we read about a neglectful human parent in the news, it makes us marvel all the more at the strength of the natural maternal instinct in most animals. Scarlett the cat was a stray queen who had taken up residence in an abandoned Brooklyn garage. There, she gave birth to a litter of kittens. On March 30, 1996, a fire of unknown origin engulfed the structure, and attending firefighters took note of a scorched and blistered cat who made repeated trips into the inferno and emerged each time with a different kitten in her mouth. Much of poor Scarlett's fur had been singed off, and her eyes were swollen shut, but fire personnel watched in amazement as the mama cat touched noses with each of her babies. Once she was certain that they were all accounted for, she collapsed. The feline family was transported to a nearby veterinary clinic, where Scarlett and her kittens were nursed back to health.