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10 Great Moms of the Twentieth Century

7. Raja Indurski-Weksler.

In June of 1941, German soldiers invaded Vilna, Lithuania and forced Raja Indurski-Weskler and her family to evacuate their home. After hiding her family in a series of “actions,” where Jews–packed in the Vilna Ghetto–were executed to fulfill a quota set by the German police, Raja became an unlikely hero, repeatedly risking her own life for the survival of her daughter.

The astute and determined mother first sewed jewelry and coins into the linings of her coat, using such treasures to barter her way to the “right,” where the soldiers directed the stronger women capable of working, and thus had a greater chance to live. At one point, she emptied her backpack of all possessions and hauled her 11-year-old daughter on her back, shoving her way through a crowd of desperate women fighting for their lives while soldiers kicked and beat them to determine the resilient.

Once at the concentration camp, Raja disguised her daughter as teenager, smuggling a stuffed bra and headscarves from the clothing depot where she worked so that the short, frail girl would appear taller and shapelier. That way the two would not be separated and the Raja could literally force her daughter to survive, which she did and lives to tell about in her powerful account appropriately entitled, Thanks to My Mother.

8. Marian Wright Edelman.

Marian Wright EdelmanShe was only 24 years old when she became the first African-American woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar, directing the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund office in Jackson, Mississippi. A few years later she moved to the nation’s capital to join forces with Martin Luther King, Jr. as counsel for the Poor People’s March. There she founded the Washington Research Project, the parent body of the Children’s Defense Fund, whose mission is to ensure every child has a fair and healthy start in life.

As president of the CDF, Marian has spent thirty plus years fighting for better healthcare, education, and economic support for disadvantaged and at-risk kids, earning her the reputation as one of the nation’s leading advocates for children. She is the recipient of a host of honorary degrees and awards, such as the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom, and she is the proud mother of three sons: Joshua, Jonah, and Ezra.

9. Jacqueline Onassis.

She was the epitome of grace and dignity, forever remembered wearing her round sunglasses and headscarf, or three-strand pearl necklace, as an icon of style. But her good taste extended beyond her elegant wardrobe and her affinity for the classic arts. She demanded privacy, especially when it came to her family, taming an aggressive media to respect her distance, so that she could devote herself entirely to her children.

Always and everywhere, her kids came first. “If you bungle raising your children, nothing much else matters in life,” she once said. So while most people sought the limelight, she avoided it, and focused her attention on John Jr. and Caroline.

The reluctant celebrity became a notorious picture of composure and poise the country depended on in the days and years following the 1963 assassination of her husband. And in mothering a daughter and son with such unabashed loyalty and bravery amid a personal and public tragedy, she became a mother to a nation, until her death in 1994.

10. Nancy Johnson Guenin (my mother).

Nancy Johnson GueninI’m lucky. I have the best role model of a mother in my own mom, who raised four daughters born within three years of each other with little help from her husband. As a mother who can hardly handle two kids, I now look to my mom in awe and wonder how on earth she managed a set of newborn twins with a one- and two-year-old at her knees.

But she loved it, and still does. She looked upon motherhood as the noblest profession, the highest honor to be bestowed on a woman. Her four girls were and are her world, which is how she succeeded at making us feel as though we were God’s most special creatures, filling the home with happy memories despite my father’s leaving her.

Now the mother of all girls does the same for her grandchildren, loving them into strong men and women, empowering them with confidence, and instilling them in them the values and morals that will make their world a better place.

10 Great Moms of the Twentieth Century

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Therese J. Borchard

Therese J. Borchard is a mental health writer and advocate. She is the founder of the online depression communities Project Hope & Beyond and Group Beyond Blue, and is the author of Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes and The Pocket Therapist. You can reach her at or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

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APA Reference
Borchard, T. (2018). 10 Great Moms of the Twentieth Century. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 15 May 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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