Every year, Gallup conducts a poll to discover who the most admired woman is. In 2015, setting a record for being the most admired woman for the twentieth time, was Hillary Clinton. All of the top women on the list, including Malala Yousafzai, Oprah Winfrey, and Michelle Obama, are strong women who serve as role models. Seeing the list inspired me to think about strong women I admire, from the woman who put First Ladies on the map to the woman next door.
Many First Ladies have spent their years in the White House advancing causes dear to them that benefit society as a whole. That the First Lady has a visible role at all would not have been possible had Eleanor Roosevelt not transformed the role. Not content to simply be a supportive wife, she became a champion of human rights during her husband’s tenure and eventually led the UN human rights commission. I am inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt’s words: “When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.”
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
Everyone is familiar with the powerful leadership of Winston Churchill, but fewer people are aware of how incredible his wife, Clementine, was. Clementine Churchill and Eleanor Roosevelt were friends, possibly the only two women in the world to understand what it must be like to have their husbands responsible for so much and so many people during the war. Like Eleanor, Clementine was strong and fearless. Not only was she a dedicated mother and wife who did not allow the public life they lived to get in the way of a close and loving relationship with her husband, but she may have been the only person not afraid of Churchill, even writing him a letter when she believed his manner had deteriorated as a leader. Clementine played an active role during both World Wars. During World War I, she was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her work supporting munitions workers; during World War II, she served as Chairman of the Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund, the President of the Young Women’s Christian Association War Time Appeal and the Chairman of Fulmer Chase Maternity Hospital for Wives of Junior Officers.
“On ne règne sur les âmes que par le calme.” – Clementine Churchill (roughly translates as “One can reign over hearts only by keeping one’s composure.”)
My mother raised her three daughters to be strong and independent, to never fear the challenges we faced, and to see the world as one big adventure waiting to be experienced. From riding an ostrich in Australia to singing happy birthday in three languages for each every family member’s birthday, to the strength with which she faced every trial in her life, my mother taught me to put my heart, soul, and energy into every moment. She was a strong believer in speaking her mind and clearing the air. She believed in the importance of smiling, keeping your sense of humor, and always kissing and hugging each other good night. When my mother became ill and was placed in hospice, my mother shared her final lesson from this side: How to die with dignity. I still feel her love and guidance from the other side.
“When your mother asks, “Do you want a piece of advice?” it is a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.” – Erma Bombeck
Peggy was our next door neighbor when I was growing up. She had six children in eight years, and all six of them were my friends. Her son gave me a ride to school each day, so I was in their house every morning. It always impressed me that she could get bacon eggs and toast on the table for her family of eight – perfectly timed, still hot – and not mind that everyone was asking her where their shoes were, to sign permission slips, and help review one more time before tests that day, all the while the cat meowing and rubbing up against her leg as she tried to avoid tripping over it. That’s where I learned how to coordinate the cooking and serving of a hot breakfast – and to feed the cats first. At some point, she and her husband divorced. Not only did she get through the break up with grace and resilience, but she went on to have a remarkable 20-year loving relationship with a man she met at 70. That’s when I learned love surrounds us at every age and stage of our lives.
“The way in which we think of ourselves has everything to do with how our world sees us and how we see ourselves successfully acknowledged by the world.”– Arlene Rankin