12 Of The Most Inspiring Moms Throughout History

by Karen Belz
Karen Belz has written for sites such as Bustle, HelloGiggles, Romper, and So Yummy. She's the mom of a sassy toddler and drinks an alarming amount of Sugar-Free Red Bull in order to keep up with her.

Mother’s Day is just around the corner — and that means that it’s a good time to honor some of the incredible women in your life.

Whether it’s your mother or grandmother or just your neighbor who has always looked out for you, they deserve recognition. Truthfully, they deserve to be recognized every day. But especially in May.

A mother means so much more than someone who gives birth. She’s the one responsible for guiding you to make the right choices. She’ll also be the first one to make sure every meal prepared is at least somewhat nutritious. (Even if the nightly vegetable is “ketchup” for a day or two.) Many moms put their children before themselves.

It’s an honorable trait, especially for women who have so much else going on at the same time.

It might make you think of some of the best moms in history. While their families know for sure, others can guess by the way they carried themselves and the missions they did outside of motherhood. It’s important for all of us to remember how strong these women are, and were. They’re a good reminder that with a lot of hard work, anything is possible. If you’re a new mom looking for some inspiring moms to model yourself after, here are 12 great choices.

1. Alberta King

Alberta King beat the odds at a young age. Born on September 13, 1904, she was the only surviving child of Jennie Celeste Williams and Adam Daniel Williams, who was a pastor. She’d later go on to marry Martin Luther King Sr. and give birth to Martin Luther King Jr. Her son wasn’t afraid to talk about how much of an influence she was on his life.

In a letter reportedly written in 1948 to his mom, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “I often tell the boys around the campus I have the best mother in the world. You will never know how I appreciate the many kind [things] you and daddy are doing for me.”

2. Candy Lightner

As a parent, Candy Lightner suffered something that no mother ever should — she had to bury her child. After her daughter Cari died in a drunk driving accident in 1981, Candy went on to found what is now known as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD. “Death caused by drunk drivers is the only socially acceptable form of homicide,” she said to People, per Biography.

Candy took her anger and created something that would be beneficial to so many others. She’s still an activist today.

3. Marie Curie

Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, but she was also a wonderful mom. She gave birth to Irène Joliot-Curie in 1897 and Ève Curie in 1904. Irène was a chemist like her mother and eventually died from effects of radiation exposure, just like her mother. Ève was a journalist, famous for writing her mother’s biography, Madame Curie. 

All of her hard work proved to her daughters that women can conquer anything. And did I mention that she raised those two daughters as a single mom?

4. Erma Bombeck

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Happy birthday, Erma! What a legacy of laughter.

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On the topic of writers, we need to talk about Erma Bombeck. She was an icon for mothers everywhere and was one of the top sources for relatable parenting content. She also proved that moms can be funny.

“Someday, when my children are old enough to understand the logic that motivates a mother, I’ll tell them: I loved you enough to bug you about where you were going, with whom and what time you would get home,” she once wrote. “I loved you enough to be silent and let you discover your friend was a creep. I loved you enough to make you return a Milky Way with a bite out of it to a drugstore and confess, ‘I stole this.’ … But most of all I loved you enough to say no when you hated me for it. That was the hardest part of all.”

5. Abigail Adams

Abigail Smith Adams was born in 1744. Throughout her life, she was an incredible advocate for women. For one, she fought to make sure girls had the same public school education that boys did.

After getting married to John Adams, she went on to have five children — three sons and two daughters. Along with her husband, she helped manage the family finances. For much of her time, she was the only one at home. Managing five kids by yourself for long stretches of time is something worth acknowledging.

6. Tammy Duckworth

Senator Tammy Duckworth is known for a few things. One of the biggest was becoming a wounded veteran back in 2004. Tammy was flying a Black Hawk to her base in Iraq when she was attacked. The incident cost her her legs.

She didn’t let that stop her from living her life. She became a first-time mother at the age of 46. Her firstborn is named Abigail, and her second child is named Maile. Their birth inspired her to start the Friendly Airports for Mothers Act, which makes it easier for breastfeeding moms to travel.


7. Hoelun

Hoelun was the mom of Genghis Khan. Womanscape even refers to her as “the mother of all mothers.” She surrendered to a kidnapping since she knew that her husband, Chiledu, would be killed if she didn’t agree. From there, she became the wife of a chief named Yesugei, who would become Genghis Khan’s father.

Her life was mostly tragic, but she managed to provide for her children when the odds were against her. She proved how powerful women can be.

8. Michelle Obama

Even today, Michelle Obama is making waves. As the former first lady, she worked extensively with making sure that children in schools everywhere got nutritious lunches. As a mom, she’s done her best to make sure that Sasha and Malia had the most normal childhood they could, given the circumstances. Not everyone’s father is president, after all.

These days, she’s still trying to give her daughters a healthy sense of privacy. She’s admitted to Oprah that she doesn’t follow them on social media, so as to not intrude too much as they’re becoming young adults.

9. Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker was known best for being a dancer and a singer. But she was also a pretty fantastic mom. She knew the importance of pitching in and working hard early on. She started working when she was just 8 years old to help support her family.

Also an activist, Josephine made a difference by adopting 12 children from all around the world. Lovingly, per Biography, she referred to them as her “rainbow tribe.” And in doing so, she wanted to prove a point — that people of all skin colors could live harmoniously together.

10. Dana Suskind

Dana Suskind comes with a story. She’s known best for starting up the pediatric cochlear implant program at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital, which has been a life-changing program for those born without the ability to hear. But she’s also raising her own family filled with smart young minds who are looking to change the world. And she’s doing it solo.

Dana’s husband, Donald Liu, died a hero after he tried to save two children from drowning in a strong current in Lake Michigan. The incident inspired Dana’s 13-year old to start up a program to help others who have lost parents. It’s called SLAP’D, and it stands for Surviving Life After Parent Death.

11. Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou is best known for being a poet and writer. Her expertise came in the form of stories about her own childhood and entrance into adulthood. As she was a woman of color, many libraries threatened to ban her extraordinary books. However, plenty of young students still managed to find access to them and learned of her journey.

But Maya was also a mother. She had a son named Guy, who was constantly asked what it was like to be raised by such an influential woman. “I grew up in her light,” Guy said on a program for OWN. “Sometimes I wasn’t worthy of it, but it’s always been an experience that expanded me.”

12. Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft was well known for being a writer and feminist who stood for women’s rights. But she was also the mom of Mary Shelley, who went on to write Frankenstein.

However, the two didn’t have much time together. Mary Wollstonecraft died at the age of 38, just days after giving birth to her daughter. She had complications during labor, and her death left her family devastated. Her husband wrote, “I firmly believe there does not exist her equal in the world. I know from experience we were formed to make each other happy. I have not the least expectation that I can now ever know happiness again.”

It’s possible that her writing inspired Mary Shelley to also pursue a similar career. If it wasn’t for Mary Wollstonecraft, Frankenstein would have never been created.