Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to learn about various “Mother of the Year” awards throughout the country.
Did you ever read about some sort of honor or award in the newspaper and wonder what it was all about? With Mother’s Day fast approaching I remembered that “Mother of the Year” is one award that I have often seen in various news articles describing numerous women. But what does the title Mother of the Year mean? Some research in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives reveals interesting facts and stories about this family honor.
The Genesis of American Mother of the Year
While many different groups have named mothers to this lofty title, there is one group that is in charge of the official American Mother of the Year award. The Golden Rule Foundation, founded by retailer James Cash Penney (JCPenney stores), started the American Mothers Committee. According to the American Mothers website:
“The idea of a Mothers Committee began in 1933 when America was in the middle of a Great Depression, and women were taking on many roles in society in order to make ends meet for their families. Businessman J.C. Penney enlisted four prominent New Yorkers, including famous clergyman and author Norman Vincent Peale, to form a committee under his Golden Rule Foundation called the American Mothers Committee. He believed mothers were key to the family and by honoring them the entire nation would be strengthened.”
The first Mother of the Year award, initially called the Typical American Mother, was presented in 1935 by Honorary Chairwoman Sara Delano Roosevelt (mother of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt) to Lucy Keen Johnson (Mrs. Fletcher Johnson), formerly of Georgia. Of the award, Mrs. Johnson said she accepted it “not for myself alone but for millions of American mothers who are making our land a great nation.” Mrs. Johnson was the mother of six children and grandmother to 14.
Making the Grade as the Best Mom
So what qualifications must a Mother of the Year have? Well this article from a 1949 Texas newspaper explains how one can be nominated for the Texas Mother of the Year. The winner of that honor would then compete with other state mothers for the national title awarded by the Golden Rule Foundation.
According to this old newspaper article, an individual or a group could nominate a mother who had the following four qualifications:
- She must be a successful mother, as evidenced by the character, achievements and maturity of her children.
- She must embody traits of courage, cheerfulness, spiritual and moral strength, patience, affection, kindness, understanding, [and] homemaking.
- She must have a sense of social and world relations, and must have been active for her own community’s betterment or in some other service for public benefit.
- She should be equipped to make friends readily and to meet people easily in connection with her duties as the American Mother of the Year.
The following 1958 California nominations announcement for Mother of the Year includes the additional qualifications of being an active member of a religious body, exemplifying the precepts of the Golden Rule, and having no children under the age of 15 years.
A Little Motherly Advice
It probably comes as no surprise that once a Mother of the Year was crowned, she offered her motherly advice in subsequent newspaper articles, such as this example from a Washington paper.
The 1949 American Mother of the Year, 60-year-old Pearle Owens Gillis from Texas – who was the mother of six and foster mother of eight – gave this motherly advice: “A mother should stay with her children, and not work outside the home when the children are very young.” She went on to say that for her, she would rather raise children than anything else.
Mrs. Gillis’s predecessor, 1948 American Mother of the Year Helen Gartside Hines of Springfield, Illinois, was an author who penned her advice in the form of newspaper articles like this one from an Illinois paper, entitled “Child Training in Home Urged.” In this historical newspaper article, which many modern-day teachers will agree with, she makes the point that parents cannot assume that schools and churches will do everything to train children – some of that training needs to happen in the home:
Two principles which, in my opinion, children should be taught very early are respect for authority and a consideration for the rights of others. If they haven’t learned this before they enter our public schools they are a real discipline problem to their teachers and a menace to the other children.
Another of her ideas still rings true today:
Children have no prejudice, racial or religious. Children take people for what they are. It is only as they absorb the ideas of their elders that they begin to make distinctions and to assume a superiority over minority groups. Here again the pre-school training in the home can set the pace for all their after life.
Mrs. Hines had ten children, nine of which served in World War II – including two daughters.
Other Mothers of the Year
While I have focused on the American Mother of the Year program in this article, there were of course other groups who named women as their choice for “Mother of the Year.” One example is this short article from a 1949 California newspaper announcing Mrs. Catherine T. Loeffler as the 1949 Catholic Mother of the Year by the National Catholic Conference on Family Life. This Massachusetts mother had 12 children, 10 of which were still living. Six of her children had chosen a religious vocation, including five of her sons who were priests.
In some cases a Mother of the Year may have overcome some obstacles. This 1958 Texas newspaper article announces the Dallas Polio Mother of the Year awardee, Mrs. A. J. MacMaster, who became a victim of polio at the age of three. Her advice to others was to “Forget yourself, think of others.” Mrs. MacMaster, an attorney, had advanced educational degrees including a master’s degree from Yale and a law degree.
While some groups who named a Mother of the Year were national or statewide, others were much smaller, like this instance of the Tyler Street Methodist Church Mother of the Year for Mother’s Day 1949. Their honoree was 73-year-old Mrs. C. H. C. Anderson, who is described as “tiny and vivacious.” She was to receive a flower bouquet as her award.
Is Your Mother a Mother of the Year?
You can nominate her for the official title by going to the American Mothers website.
Did you or a woman in your family tree ever receive recognition for being an exemplary mom? Tell us about it in the comments below!
- Tracing Female Ancestors: The Mother of All Genealogy Research
- Find Your Female Ancestors This Women’s History Month
- 8 Genealogy Tips for Tracing Female Ancestry
- Angela Cavallo Saves Her Son’s Life with Her Supermom Strength