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Inspiration for Mother’s Day from the Library’s Collections

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This is a guest post by Rachel Gordon, Visitor Services Specialist at the Library. 

Illustration of a camel with text surrounding
A page of Leonard Bernstein’s illustrated letter to his mother, Israel, 1948. Drawings by Jossi Stern.
Leonard Bernstein Collection, Music Division.

As Mother’s Day approaches, I have been reflecting on how we show our love and appreciation to the important women in our lives. As lovely as it is to receive a carefully selected gift, something handmade is likely to be most precious and to make a mother happiest.  All the drawings and letters I received from my three children were heart-warming, making me smile and think back fondly to the days when they would proudly present a piece of artwork they had made and carefully hidden until Mother’s Day. The Library’s collections include many lovely pieces to and about mothers; here are just a few examples.

If being together in person isn’t feasible this year, a piece of heartfelt writing or an illustration might be the next best thing. Tributes from readers to their mothers were a popular feature in historic newspapers. One ad from 1945 encouraged giving generously to your mother, but also recommended that as well as an actual present, you “give her yourself, in companionship and affection.” In 1948, composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein sent a lively and beautifully illustrated letter from Israel to his mother. It’s featured in this Music Division blog post, and you can see all nine pages here. It’s certainly an inspiration for how to write to our mothers. We’re not going to match Bernstein on the musical front but we can certainly create entertaining descriptions and include a drawing or two.

For Mother’s Day in 1957, influential food writer Clementine Paddleford suggested making old-fashioned homemade candy as a gift. Paddleford’s columns and recipes, featuring home cooking and regional American cuisine, were hugely popular. The following year, she wrote one of her most successful pieces, A Flower for My Mother. A very personal and moving tribute to her own mother, it was such a hit that it was later released as a book.

A set of four nesting dolls, with a cylindrical holding container
Dalia Kaveh / with book art by Andi Arnovitz, שקטה נשים שורת / A Quiet Row of Women. Jerusalem: Jerusalem Print Workshop, 2010. Photographed images of the artist’s grandmothers and great-grandmothers on Japanese paper-mâché dolls, handmade box, 3.8 x 7″. Includes poem by Dalia Kaveh in both English and Hebrew with the colophon as a small Japanese stab binding book.
Artists’ Books in Hebrew and Yiddish, Hebraic Collections.

Finally, A Quiet Row of Women*, from the Library’s Hebraic Collections, is a powerful and moving testament to what we owe to our mothers, grandmothers and earlier female forebears. A poem accompanies a set of nesting dolls, each decorated with the images of women from different generations of the same family.

Like a Russian matrushka,
One doll inside the other,
There are enfolded in me
My mother and my grandmother
And the mother of her mother
And her grandmother
And all the generations,
A quiet row of women
Like a column of strength.

How better to express what this holiday is all about? Happy Mother’s Day!

*You can also read about the origin of Mother’s Day in this blog post from the Library. With thanks to colleague Ann Brener for identifying A Quiet Row of Women, and to poet Dalia Kaveh and artist Andi Arnovitz for permission to feature it.

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