Mental Floss

5 Superior Mothers

Kara Kovalchik
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Mothers come in all shapes, forms, classifications, and species. Whether you're a biological mom, an adoptive or foster mom, or some other manner of maternal presence, mental_floss salutes you with the brief tales of five notable mothers. Enjoy!

1. A Whistler-Stop Tour of England

While America was being torn apart by the Civil War, American artist James Whistler was across the ocean in London, pursuing his artistic endeavors. In 1863, his mother, Anna McNeill Whistler, joined him in the British capital. She didn't think much of the bohemian lifestyle her son was living in England, but still, he was her son. She encouraged his painting and entertained his patrons with her Southern cooking. In 1871, the young model that James expected to show for her sitting failed to do so, but as moms often do, Anna saved the day. The 67-year-old woman gamely agreed to pose for her son.

Arrangement in Grey & Black #1: The Artist's Mother has been reproduced and parodied thousands of times since then, making Whistler's mother one of the most recognized models in the world.

2. "Love" Was Her Middle Name (Really)

Gladys & Elvis
Gladys & Elvis /

3. Just a Lad from Liverpool

Mimi & John
Mimi & John /

4. One Hundred and Twenty Little Toes

Lillian Gilbreth
Lillian Gilbreth /

Lillian and Frank combined their talents to found a consulting company that specialized in scientific management principles. On the professional side, she concerned herself with the study of the human aspects of time management. And as time progressed, she gained more and more practical experience to use as anecdotal evidence: Eventually, her family grew to include 12 children. Frank died in 1924, leaving Lillian to raise their brood on her own while continuing her studies and keeping the business above water. Amazingly, she persevered. Two years later, she became the first woman to join the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Despite her professional successes, including several patents, most people remember Mrs. Gilbreth as the matriarch in the 1948 book (and 1950 film) Cheaper by the Dozen.

5. Scarlett, The Fearless Fire Cat

Scarlett the cat, shortly after the fire
Scarlett the cat, shortly after the fire /
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