As Mother’s Day approaches, most successful people have Mothers and Grandmothers to thank for shaping them into who they have become! Equally, many of the world’s most renowned humanitarians attribute much of their success to what they learned from their mothers. Who are these “hidden” mothers behind these powerful world changers?
MOTHER TERESA (1910-1997)
Mother Teresa (St Teresa of Calcutta) will forever be known as one of the most generous and self-sacrificing people who ever lived. Her life was dedicated to helping the sick and poor, specifically supporting the blind and disabled and outcasts of Calcutta, who had no one to care for them. Though never a biological mother, she was a mother to thousands.
What shaped her to care for the poorest and neediest? When Mother Teresa was just eight years old, she tragically and unexpectedly lost her father to suspected poisoning. As her family suffered from his loss, her mother (Dranafile Bojaxhiu) seized the opportunity to mold and shape the character of her daughter by teaching her to be generous. While they weren’t exactly wealthy, their doors were always open to those in their community who needed food. Her mom emphasized to her that everyone equally deserved to eat. Mother Teresa’s mom was so passionate about being charitable that she told her daughter to “never eat a single mouthful unless you are sharing it with others.”
While merely acting out of her compassion to value, include and feed the poor, this mother had no idea that her daughter would grow up to not only abide by her mother’s wishes but be one of the greatest advocates of all-time for society’s outcasts.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN (1809-1865)
Considered to be one of the most esteemed US Presidents of all time, Lincoln is remembered for his quest for Civil Rights and Liberties, including advocating emancipation from slavery and reuniting the US after a fierce Civil War. Lincoln’s successes required strength and endurance, and behind his courage and bravery were two mothers.
Lincoln’s biological mother was Nancy Hanks Lincoln, of whom he said: “all I ever am or hope to be I owe to her.” While his relationship with his father was strained, he was much like his mother in both looks and character. She encouraged his education and set him on a course to value honesty and compassion. However, when he was merely 9, his mother became his “angel mother” after suddenly dying from drinking poisoned milk.
Lincoln suffered immensely over the loss of his mother, but 14 months later, the “Mom” he needed came into his life and was his primary role model for the remainder of it. Sarah Bush Lincoln, Lincoln’s stepmother, believed in him and prepared him for his future leadership from day one. She transformed an unkempt, scraggly boy into a well-dressed man. Sarah gave him books to read and promoted his education. She was the one who always believed in him no matter what others thought. Lincoln considered his stepmother his “best friend in the world.” The Mother and Son bond they shared and her constant faith in Abraham Lincoln empowered him to succeed.
MAHATMA GANDHI (1869-1948)
Gandhi, an Indian political leader who led his nation to independence from British Rule, devoted his life to government reform and the fight against racial oppression. Gandhi’s influence was not felt just in his own country but in many other nations of the world. His background in law and passion for abolishing discriminatory practices paved the way for him to become one of the greatest reformers of all time.
Gandhi had a unique leadership style that involved non-violent protests. Why? Gandhi’s parents were of the Hindu religion, which advocated passivism. His mother, Putlibai Gandhi, was highly respected by her son. She was an intelligent and deeply religious woman, whom he considered to be an ideal role model throughout his life. She taught him how to sacrifice, love, and hold fast to his convictions. Her loyalty to her faith and values, coupled with her simple lifestyle, was a driving force behind Gandhi’s pacifist approach.
MAYA ANGELOU (1928-2014)
One of the 20th century’s most renowned women, Angelou was a singer and dancer who wrote movies, poems, screenplays, and books. She also was a University Professor, African freelance writer, and leader in the 1960’s Civil Rights movement. As a female and African American, Angelou pioneered the way for women and minorities to hold positions of cultural influence and authority in literature and film. In 2010, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama, and she received over fifty honorary degrees during her life.
Angelou wrote her memoir, “Mom & Me & Mom,” highlighting re-connecting with her mother, who had abandoned her as a young child. Not every mother’s influence comes from her overt kindness or support, and Angelou’s story begins with much heartbreak. Brokenness from Angelou’s neglect had separated her from her mother, Vivian Baxter, for around 16 years.
However, at the age of 22, while being a single mom to a five-year-old son, Angelou and her mom began to mend their rocky relationship. During a lunch meeting, Vivian says to her daughter, “Baby, I’ve been thinking, and now I am sure. You are the greatest woman I’ve ever met.” She began praising her daughter’s kindness and intelligence, and at that moment, Angelou began to believe in herself. She gathered her thoughts and began to imagine becoming somebody someday. It was then that she made a few significant life changes that would fuel her journey to success.
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR (1929-1968)
Last but certainly not least, Martin Luther King Jr (MLK), one of our greatest contemporary revolutionists, spent his life dedicated to breaking down the walls that prevented racial equality and equity. MLK’s methods included conducting protests, marches for freedom, and speeches of faith that inspired a world where discrimination ceased to exist. His primary purpose was to promote his faith while securing rights and freedoms for African Americans who were considered secondary to their Caucasian counterparts. He became a symbolic leader for Civil Rights and a father for African Americans. A Nobel Peace Prize was awarded MLK for his non-violent resistance approach to racial prejudice in the US.
Alberta Williams King was MLK’s mother. He described her influence in his life as one of being a positive, significant force in shaping his moral development. While she obtained a vital role at her church as an organist, Alberta also played a role in civil rights activism by her participation in various organizations, including the NAACP, the Women’s Auxiliary of the National Baptist Convention and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. As a trained teacher, Alberta was a constant source of strength, inspiration, and refuge for her son through all of his endeavors. She taught him how to fight peacefully. She taught him how to dream!