This Mother’s Day, we wanted to highlight five inspirational women from history. After raising children, these mothers made waves as artists, chefs, activists, writers, and inventors. And there’s one other thing they all have in common: many of their famed achievements came later in life. It is a good reminder to us all that success has no age limit.
Anna J. Cooper: Born into slavery in 1858, Cooper would grow up to become a trail-blazing writer, teacher, and activist. Although Cooper never had children of her own, she raised her five great-nieces and nephews and two foster children while working as a teacher. Her first book, A Voice From the South, made her one of the first Black feminist writers and took her on a lecture tour around the country. For Cooper, education had no age limit. At the age of 67, she would become the first African American woman to receive a PhD in the subject of history. Cooper lived until the age of 105, passing away just five months before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law.
Portrait of Anna J. Cooper c. 1901.
Image credit: Library of Congress, LC-DIG-bellcm-15413.
Ángela Ruiz Robles: A Spanish teacher and writer, Robles has been credited with inventing the precursor to the modern e-book. As both a mother and teacher, Robles was a strong advocate for education and wanted to create something accessible for her students. Her invention, called the "Mechanical Encyclopedia," was a portable device that let users read texts with the press of a button. She built the first prototype in her early 50s and laid the groundwork for the future of electronic publishing.
Josephine Cochrane: This inventor was 46 years old when she filed her first patent for an appliance that would revolutionize the kitchen: the dishwasher. The invention came about after her husband passed away and Cochrane was left with debt and financial instability. Searching for a way to support herself, Cochrane began building a dish-washing machine in her shed behind her home. She pitched her invention at the World’s Fair in 1893 at the age of 54. Although it took time to catch on, the dishwasher would become a popular appliance in American homes by the 1950s.
Portrait of Josephine Cochrane
Joyce Chen: This now famous chef and businesswoman opened her first restaurant in her 40s. Chen had the idea after she made egg rolls for her children’s school bake sale in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When her treats quickly sold out, she began to wonder if the food of her home, Shanghai, would be successful in the U.S. Chen later introduced northern Chinese and Shanghainese dishes to Boston and pioneered buffet style serving that is still popular today. She published her influential cookbook about Chinese cooking in 1962, and opened her second and third restaurants in her 50s. Chen's legacy as a trailblazer and tastemaker continues to influence and inspire the culinary world today.
Anna Mary Roberston Moses: Many people know this famous artist by her nickname “Grandma Moses.” Moses spent a majority of her life working as a housekeeper and raising her five children in upstate New York. In the 1940s, she quickly gained attention for her charming images of everyday scenes, such as family gatherings, holidays, and rural farm life. Completely self-taught, Moses didn’t start painting until she was in her late 70s. Today, Grandma Moses is a testament to the fact that it is never too late to pick up a paintbrush.
Portrait of Anna Mary Robertson Moses, Grandma Moses, c. 1950.
Image credit: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
For all our young historians, don't forget to give the moms in your life an extra hug this Sunday. And remember, one of the best gifts you can give this day is time. Go on a nature walk together or make dinner as a family (we have some great recipes in our children's book History is Delicious). Mother's Day is all about showing our moms how much we love and appreciate them.