By Judy Dutton
Most moms should get a medal. These women deserve more.
1. Minna Wilson: The Mom In Your Corner
On September 21, 1989, boxer Tony Wilson was defending his British light-heavyweight championship against Steve McCarthy, and it wasn’t going well. Unable to watch, Wilson’s mother, Minna, jumped into the ring and bashed McCarthy with her high-heel shoe. The resulting head wound was so bad that McCarthy quit the fight. When a rematch was scheduled, Minna promised not to attend. “I will never go back to one of [Tony’s] fights,” she said. There was no need; she’d already put the fear of Mom into McCarthy. On the day of the rematch he withdrew, citing the flu.
2. Olympias of Macedon: The Mom Behind the Throne
Alexander III of Macedon would never have become “Alexander the Great” without his mom, Olympias. The fourth wife of Philip II—and a member of the snake-worshiping cult of Dionysus—Olympias was not pleased when wife No. 5 arrived in 337 BCE. Historians believe she hired hit men to assassinate her hubby, burn his newest wife, and poison two of her husband’s offspring. The carnage cleared Alexander’s path to the throne, although scheduling the assassinations during her own daughter’s wedding probably put a damper on future family get-togethers.
3. Angela Cavallo: Supermom!
On April 9, 1982, Georgia teen Tony Cavallo was working on his Chevy Impala in his driveway when the jack collapsed, pinning him under the car. That’s when Tony’s mom, Angela, did the superhuman: The 50-something woman lifted the 3,500-pound vehicle four inches and held it for about five minutes as two neighbors dragged her son to safety. Scientists have a hard time re-creating such adrenaline-fueled feats in the lab, but Angela’s “hysterical strength” does seem to prove that a mother’s love knows no (weight) limits.
4. Mary Thomas: The Den Mother
In 1966, Mary Thomas—a single mother of nine living in Chicago’s West Side—found 25 street toughs on her stoop. The men, members of the notorious Vice Lords gang, had come to recruit her seven sons. Thomas quietly excused herself, then reappeared with a shotgun and a message: “There[’s] only one gang around here, and that’s the Thomas gang.” Thomas made sure that each of her kids graduated from high school, and you probably know her youngest: basketball Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas.
5. Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Mom In America
Mary Harris Jones was one of the liveliest, sassiest, and most effective union organizers in history. She peppered speeches with curses and used stunts to make points. When a group of miners’ wives were jailed, Jones advised them to sleep all day and sing all night—which irritated neighbors so much that they were released five days later. In 1912, she protested lax child labor laws by marching hundreds of kids with signs that read, “We want to go to school and not to the mines!” to the president’s house. By her 60s, she’d been dubbed “the most dangerous woman in America.” But to the workers she protected, she was simply “Mother Jones.”
6. Lucinda Shaw: Most Patient Mom Ever
Few tested the bounds of parental patience quite like writer George Bernard Shaw, who moved in with his mom after college. Lucinda’s free rent kept Shaw afloat through a series of failed novels, while her love helped her tolerate her son’s prickly personality, overblown ego, and vegetarian dietary demands.
It wasn’t until Shaw turned 39 that he started earning enough to support himself as a theater critic. Thirty years later, Lucinda’s unwavering belief in her freeloading son’s abilities finally paid off when he won the Nobel Prize.
7. Brenda Barnes: The Mom Who Came Back
Former Sara Lee CEO Brenda Barnes was one of Forbes’s World’s Most Powerful Women. But her bigger accomplishment may be the huge strides she’s made for stay-at-home moms returning to the workforce. In a hotly debated move, Barnes left her position as president of PepsiCo North America to spend more time with her family. Six years later, she joined Sara Lee, where she started a corporate “returnship” program for other mothers like her. The program was so successful that the company now emphasizes equal consideration of returning professionals for all open positions—a big step forward for both career–life balance and corporate America!
8. Lydia AngyIou: The Real Mama Bear
In 2006, Lydia Angyiou was outside with her two sons in northern Quebec when she saw a polar bear poised to attack her 7-year-old. Lydia struck first, kicking and punching the 700-pound beast before it could get near her son. A strange wrestling match ensued until a neighbor finally shot the bear. Lydia was rushed to the hospital, but miraculously survived with just a few scratches and a black eye. Locals were stunned; nobody tackles a bear and lives to tell the tale. Just ask Goldilocks.
9. Sai Mai: The Original Tiger Mom
Normally, pigs make tasty hors d’oeuvres for tigers. But Sai Mai, a Bengal tigress at the Sriracha Tiger Zoo in Chon Buri, Thailand, was raised to be more open-minded. As a cub, Sai Mai was suckled by a sow until she was 4 months old. Two years later, she returned the favor by suckling six piglets. Zookeepers, sensing a great PR opportunity, put Sai Mai and her brood on display, dressing the piglets in tiny tiger outfits. For years, the tigress cared for “cubs” of many species, ignoring her predatory impulses in favor of her motherly ones.
10. Ann Jarvis: The Mom Who Inspired Mother’s Day
During the Civil War, Ann Jarvis cared for the wounded on both sides of the fight. She also tried to orchestrate peace between Union and Confederate moms by forming a Mother’s Friendship Day. All that compassion inspired her daughter, Anna, to campaign for a national Mother’s Day. It took Anna years, but in 1914, Woodrow Wilson made it a national observance. By the 1920s, though, Anna regretted how the holiday was observed. She especially despised greeting cards, griping: “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”
This story originally appeared in mental_floss magazine.