Happy Mother’s Day

A day for unconditional love

cclick@thestate.comMay 12, 2013 

Motherhood is not for the faint-hearted.

The scraped knees and bumped heads of childhood morph into teenage angst, followed by the 20-something drama of career searches and romance.

Through it all, mothers provide the bandages and the balm of a listening ear, soothing the body as well as the heart. And many do all this while working outside the home, taking care of elders, volunteering and occasionally taking a few yoga-style, deep cleansing breaths as the plates spin above their heads.

It’s the biggest club in the world – but who has time for meetings?

A newly published book on South Carolina women who earned the accolade of Mother of the Year suggests that mothers have always been willing to take on life – and children – with gusto. These mothers, from the World War II-era to modern 21st century, took plenty of lumps, from the deaths of spouses and children to financial woes and illness.

They had to learn new skills and adapt to changing eras, but their advice and fortitude stand the test of time.

“We have our mountain-top experiences and we would like to stay there,” wrote Annie Letitia Hudgens Dunlap, a Mountville woman who was named Mother of the Year in 1944. “But when we come down to the level of real life we are confronted with a duty – service to those who need our help. Our response to those needs will determine whether or not we are living a beautiful and dutiful life.”

Dunlap had 12 children and became a widow at age 45. But she declined to wallow in pity. Instead, she moved her children to the country, where she supervised activities on her family’s farm and became a Farm Home Demonstration agent, learning to drive a Model A Ford to make her rounds.

Those 1940s-era moms knew the meaning of sacrifice, because they were front row witnesses to a war that consumed everyone, whether they were rationing sugar and saving rubber at home or fighting on the front lines.

The first S.C. Mother of the Year, in 1942, was Alice Elizabeth Moore Arthur of Union, who had nine children, six of whom lived to adulthood. Four of her five sons saw action in World War I, and all five served in World War II.

The indomitable Esther Wilson Price, named Mother of the Year in 1943, already had spent 50 years in China when she returned to her native state and earned the accolade. She arrived in Asia in 1888 as a medical missionary, married Dr. Frank Price and had four sons, teaching them in the mission along with Chinese children.

In a letter published in The State newspaper on Mothers Day 1943, Price was unsparing in the struggles of South Carolina women.

“There are burdened, hard-pressed mothers who illustrate full well how some may work from sun to sun, but a mother’s work is never done,” Price wrote. “There are widowed mothers, mothers who know the inconveniences of a crowded home and pinched poverty; mothers whose only son or sons are in the armed services for the nation, and others whose only son has been killed or is missing. There are also mothers who are wives of husbands who refused to do their part and left the mother to carry the load alone. And there are those who, hardest of all perhaps, know how ‘sharper than a serpent’s tooth is an unthankful child.”

But she offered this advice: “There is no substitute for a pure and happy home life established on Christian principles. The planning for such a home in time and in effort is costly, especially for the mother. But under heaven there is no greater school of virtue and no greater reward.”

That theme of raising virtuous children who understand that life is about looking outward, in service toward others, runs like a thread through the mothers’ philosophies in “70 Years of Remarkable Women,” written by two Rock Hill women, Martha Cranford and Shirley Fishburne. The book was written for the S.C. Mothers Association, which celebrated its 70th year May 2 with a lunch for all the living Mothers of the Year.

Esther Garrison Latimer of West Columbia, the 1956 Mother of the Year, believed there was “always room for more” in her home, and illustrated that by raising a niece and nephew whose mother had died, as well as her five children.

She believed “anyone can accomplish what he or she undertakes by developing the talents God has given him, keeping the faith, and putting emphasis on the things which count — true values.”

As the decades passed, many of these mothers broke barriers in business and government, taking on employment outside the home or volunteering in their communities to raise awareness of social and education problems, in essence mirroring the progress of South Carolina as it moved from an agrarian to an industrial age.

The history offers a window to the complex lives of South Carolina women in the 20th and 21st centuries, said Jennifer Disney, a Winthrop University political science professor and director of Winthrop’s women’s studies program. She assisted the authors in their research and realized the treasure trove of material provided opportunities for her students.

The scrapbooks and collected materials from families and newspapers will now be placed in the Louise Pettus Archives at Winthrop University, where it will serve as the basis for future research on South Carolina women. Disney plans to initiate an oral history project to collect the stories of living mothers and those who selected the candidates through the years.

Many of these women say the stresses of life have changed over the 70 years of the book, but the process of raising children to be loving people and good citizens is based on the wisdom of the ages.

Betty Jean Ulmer McGregor of Hopkins raised five teenagers in the turbulent ‘60s and ‘70s, always believing you provide “roots and wings” so children can have a foundation to discover their life’s purpose.

Mary Kate Brearley Glasser, mother of four children, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, was named Mother of the Year in 2008 and condensed her philosophy of child-raising to this: “I always tried to live like I wanted my children to follow. I taught my children to love learning and to make use of every opportunity that came their way.”

Looking back, Glasser said she wouldn’t add much to that advice, even though young families face different challenges than those she and her husband, the Rev. Dr. Cecil Brearley Jr., in the 1950s and ‘60s.

“I think there are always stresses,” said Glasser, who keeps in daily contact with children and grandchildren. “The economy is different and I think there are always problems, but you always be prepared and hang on to your faith and work hard.”

The computer keeps her in daily touch with family — “one key for ‘children’ and another for ‘grandchildren,’” she noted in an email. An annual beach vacation keeps her family grounded and together, even though, at 28 members, they are now spilling over into a second house.

“My children are so wonderful,” she said Thursday. “They are all service oriented. They are all helping others.”

That same day, Glasser received a note from her daughter-in-law Tammy Lewis Brearley, who is married to Glasser’s son John, a note that she believes illustrates the widening circle of famly love she has nurtured.

“I am so thankful for the legacy of faith and family that you have given to all of us,” Tammy Brearley wrote. “God has blessed us so richly through your example of putting God first in all that we do. You have been my role model for the devotion that a mother has for her children and I will be forever grateful for that.”

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