Mother's Day 2013: 8 Notable Moms Throughout History to Remember

Mother's Day is upon us. Let's not get too sappy about it, OK? One can mother children — either well or poorly — and still leave a mark in world history, for better or worse.

Here are some mothers, whom you may not have known about, who did:

1. Wu Zetian

From the Tang Dynasty, she was the only woman to rule China as an independent sovereign. She became regent and then sole Empress, after her husband died, and was rumored to have been ruthless about murdering the children of rivals and concubines. She ruled until she was past 80 years old and then ceded the Imperial throne to her son.

2. Maria Theresa 

Empress of Austria, inherited the throne in 1740 and hung onto it through financial depression, foreign attacks, and sixteen pregnancies. She also instituted reforms in medicine, criminal justice, and education.

3. Mother Jones

Born Mary Harris in County Cork, Ireland in 1837. The Harris family emigrated first to Canada and then to the U.S. Mary Harris married George Jones in Memphis, Tenn., in 1861. George was active in the early labor movement, a member of the National Union of Iron Moulders, later the International Moulders and Foundry Workers Union of North America. During the Reconstruction, serial yellow fever epidemics devastated Memphis, killing Mary's husband and their four children. She moved to Chicago and continued George's work among the Knights of Labor and IWW. There she became known as Mother Jones, for whom the magazine is named. 

4. Mother Neff

She was born Isabella Eleanor Shepherd, in 1830, near Roanoke, Virginia. Isabella married Noah Neff, "a young man who owned land in Texas," in 1854, and became both a pioneer of the wild west frontier and the mother of 9 children, including future Texas governor, Pat Neff. In 1934, acreage she originally donated to the state of Texas joined other acreage donated by Governor Neff and others and officially became Mother Neff State Park.

5. Grandma Moses

She was born Anna Mary Robertson, in 1860, in Greenwich, New York. Anna Mary married Tom Moses in 1887 and birthed 10 children, five of which died in childhood, before she began to paint. She is known as what is called a "primitive" artist because she never received formal training. Images of some of her famous works are found here.

6. Ma Barker

She was born Arizona Clark, in 1877, in Ash Grove, Missouri. She married George Barker in 1892 — and somewhere along the way — changed her first name to Kate. Her infamous four sons were: Herman, Lloyd, Arthur and Fred. George abandoned the family in 1915 and, for all intents and purposes, Ma Barker, seems to have encouraged her sons to become gangsters and criminals.

After discussing that woman, let's end on a high note.

7. Mother Hale

Clara McBride Hale was a modern American heroine and founder of Hale House in Harlem, a safe place for children without families. 

8. And one final mother to honor on Mother's Day: Mother Earth, from whom we all spring and to whom we all return: humans, animals, creatures of the air and sea, vegetables, and minerals. She is our ultimate mother, in fact and in spirit. Honor and respect her.