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Mother's Day? Forget Chocolate - Give Her Feminist Food for Thought

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Number Two in the monthly Uppity Women Wednesday Series, started in April, 2014.

(Image by Meryl Ann Butler for   Permission   Details   DMCA
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As men are fond of saying, women are mysterious. Just when a male thinks he's grasped the concept of pampering, of making "mom" feel like a queen for a day, she sends him a look that says "You haven't delivered." The kids can get away with giving mom breakfast in bed, and the handmade cards filled with I.O.U. chore promises. Not the guys, however.

Yes, we 21st-Century moms (and grandmoms) are complex. That means that males need to take a stab at something daring and new -- and I don't mean a Victoria's Secret gift card, either. These days, the average mom works multiple jobs, most of them unpaid: caregiver, chauffeur, social secretary, bill-payer. Invariably under-salaried and over-scheduled, she works extra hard at being a good mother.

Nevertheless, even when the kids are grown, we constantly question ourselves: is what I do really meaningful? And what about our moms, our female ancestors? Did they feel fulfilled? Was it meaningful, what they did?

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This Mother's Day, try validating the moms in your life. One way is to introduce her to a wider world of awesome, flesh-and-blood moms, most of whom she won't have heard of. Meeting these gutsy trailblazers will nourish her in surprising ways -- and you, too, I'm betting.

Where to look? These daring dames fill many pages of those quaint artifacts that we call books (shameless plug: including eight or nine of mine.) Their stories, filled with humor, courage, and steely resolve, show the astonishing degree to which females have influenced their societies, no matter how long ago. Knowing what such women accomplished, despite staggering obstacles, is powerful medicine. Reading them is a grand antidote to the cynicism, despair and relentless bad news that too often fills the hearts and minds of even the most stalwart moms in our society, me included.

Here's proof: meet the unstoppable Mary Montagu, Health Heroine.

Lady Montagu in Turkish Dress by Liotard c 1756
(Image by public domain via wiki)
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This May 15, pause a moment to celebrate the birthdate of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. She's the 18th-century Englishwoman whose gumption and persistent courage singlehandedly saved many thousands from what was then a fate worse than death: smallpox (called "small" to distinguish it from the great pox, syphilis.)

Early in her marriage, smallpox struck 25-year-old Mary. She had the type called confluent; the pocks ran together in one huge sore, leaving her ruined face covered with deep reddish craters.

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When she first saw herself in the "mirror, she wrote a mocking poem: "Alas, how am I grown/A frightful spectre to myself unknown!" Smallpox had disfigured her but failed to destroy her zest for living. (She would also leave the world a legacy of spirited writings, referenced at the end of this article.)

"Years later, living with her children and ambassador husband in Turkey and mingling with local "women, Lady Mary observed the" Ottoman Empire habit of inoculation (also called ingrafting or variolation) "against smallpox, using tiny amounts "of the live virus. She later learned the procedure had one drawback: It could bring on the disease in 3 to 5 percent of those inoculated. Still, it seemed miraculous to Montagu, compared to the 30 to 40 percent killed outright by smallpox -- plus the countless survivors who were blinded and severely scarred. Properly done, inoculation also gave lifetime immunity; that was key, because smallpox epidemics returned to kill and maim again.

When Mary returned to England in 1719, she brought back the method and fought fiercely for its acceptance. By having her own two youngsters inoculated, eventually she convinced the royal family to do the same. That in turn persuaded a growing number of their subjects.

Mary Wortley Montagu by Charles Jervas, after 1716
(Image by Public domain)
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Many doctors rejected variolation, however -- partly because it came from a woman. Female impertinence!! Intolerable! Even after accepting its value, male medical professionals often inflicted more risk and pain by giving patients laxatives and bleeding them before inoculation.

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Vicki Leon, author of over 35 nonfiction books on women's history, ancient history, and travel, along with pictorial books for younger readers on wildlife and earth's fragile habitats, lives on the California coast but often returns to her favorite (more...)

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