In honour of Mother’s day, Rebel Women is paying tribute to some notable women in history who were also mothers, beginning with…
Mother Lü – Mother of a Revolution
Mother Lü (sometimes Lü Mu) was a noblewoman in Han dynasty China. At the time, a politician called Wang Mang usurped the imperial throne, implementing a number of unpopular policies. In 14 AD, Mother Lü’s son, Lü Yu, was executed for a minor offence. Mother Lü vowed revenge – and she meant business.
The wealthy lady recruited peasants, purchased weapons and other supplies and mounted a rebellion. Her army of several thousand was the first uprising in Chinese history to be led by a woman. Appointing herself General, Mother Lü led the rebels to storm the capital, capturing and beheading the magistrate who had executed her son.
Mother Lü died of an illness shortly after her successes, but her spirit lived on. The forces she had amassed went on to become known as ‘The Red Eyebrow Rebellion’ and ultimately overthrew Wang Mang’s regime.
- Mother Lü on Wikipedia
- Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance and Rebellion, Vol. 2 – Junius P. Rodriguez
- Women in Early Imperial China – Bret Hinsch
Josephine Baker – Mother of the Rainbow Tribe
Josephine Baker was an all round remarkable woman. She was fluent in French and English, a member of the French Resistance, a Civil Rights Activist and the first black woman to star in a major motion picture. Best known as a singer and performer, Baker also adopted twelve children from different racial backgrounds, calling them her ‘Rainbow Tribe’.
She ensconced her diverse family in a castle, Chateau des Milandes, where she hoped to demonstrate that ‘children of different ethnicities and religions could still be brothers. Josephine Baker’s children were French born, Moroccan, Finnish, Japanese, Korean, Colombian, Algerian, Israeli and Venezuelan. She invited people to visit the children and see them playing together at home. She dressed them differently according to their nationality and raised them with different religions.
“She was a great artist, and she was our mother. Mother’s make mistakes. Nobody’s perfect.” – Akio Baker
There have been many criticisms of Baker’s Rainbow Tribe, even from her own sons who described her as possessive and controlling. It is interesting to compare her actions to today’s celebrity adoption stories.
Mary Harris ‘Mother’ Jones – Grandmother of all Agitators
Mother Jones was a labour leader, children’s rights activist and agitator once called ‘the most dangerous woman in America’. Her life was blighted by tragedy – in the 1860’s her husband and four children died of yellow fever and in 1871 her dress shop was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire. Mary poured her grief into her work, becoming an organiser for the United Mine Workers Union.
A highly effective campaigner, she organised the wives of workers into a militia, leading them as they weilded brooms and beat tin pans shouting ‘Join the Union!’ By the age of 60, she had earned the title ‘Mother Jones’. She worked tirelessly on the behalf of child workers, gathering a ‘Children’s Crusade’ in 1903, marching to President Roosevelt’s hometown, kids in tow, aiming to improve working conditions and end child labour in mills and mines.
Arrested and imprisoned a number of times, Mother Jones was once called ‘the grandmother of all agitators’ by the US Senate floor. She replied:
“I hope I live long enough to be the great-grandmother of all agitators!”
Sacagawea – Pioneer Mother
A heroine of American history, Sacagawea was a Shoshone woman who worked as a translator on the Lewis and Clarke expedition exploring thousands of miles of the United states – with a newborn baby strapped to her back.
Sacagawea was kidnapped and sold into marriage in her early teens. When she and her husband were asked to travel with Lewis and Clarke she was already pregnant. Her son, Jean Baptiste, was born at the beginning of the journey at Fort Mandan.
The young woman acted as an interpreter and diplomat for the group. She was able to speak with the native people they encountered and was also a reassuring sight – the expedition found that if they traveled with a woman and infant they were perceived as friendly and non-threatening. After the expedition, Lewis and Clark had grown so fond of her son that they made provisions for his education and upbringing.
Margaret Beaufort – Mother of the Tudor Dynasty
The ultimate Matriarch, Margaret Beaufort demanded and commanded respect.
She gave birth to her first and only son, Henry Tudor, at the age of thirteen, already a widow. Margaret lived during a very tempestuous time in English history and as the daughter of a noble house soon became a key figure in the Wars of the Roses. Cunning and ambitious, Beaufort joined forces with dowager queen Elizabeth Woodville, plotting to have Henry married to Elizabeth of York, Woodville’s daughter, thus creating a powerful alliance which attracted both Yorkist and Lancastrian support. This eventually resulted in Henry Tudor taking the throne.
Beaufort continued to exercise considerable influence over court politics and her son’s leadership. She was referred to as ‘My Lady the king’s Mother’ and Henry’s first parliament recognised her right to hold property independently from her husband – which other married women could not do. Later Margaret was given the power to administer justice in northern England.