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Motherhood and the Military

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The following is a post about the upcoming Veterans History Project (VHP) virtual discussion panel, “Motherhood and the Military.”  Watch the Folklife Today blog for an upcoming post from Motherhood and the Military panelist Rue Mayweather on May 4th.

Color cover of sheet music with title: "Mother, I'm Going Over" Patriotic songs.  Cover features cartoon of man in military uniform hugging older woman.  The Statue of Liberty can be seen in the background.
Scott, J. O. (1918) Mother, I’m going over. [, monographic. Jas. O. Scott,, Pontiac, Ill.:] [Notated Music] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,
This second Sunday in May has been set aside for our nation to remember and celebrate the women in our families who lovingly taught us, nurtured us and yes, even sacrificed for us.  Sacrifice is not something unusual to mothers, especially military mothers who frequently find themselves distanced from their loved ones on this bittersweet day in May.

The tradition of a national celebration of mothers in the United States grew out of a reaction to the aftermath of the Civil War with celebrations of “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” bringing together mothers of former Union and Confederate soldiers to help promote peace and understanding. Growing up just after the Civil War, Anna Jarvis was resolute to fulfill her mother’s desire for a day to be established to recognize the important roles that mothers play in the family and community. That holiday came to fruition in 1914 via presidential proclamation, but Mother’s Day 1917 is when the day began to take shape for our country.

With America entering the Great War in April, it was clear that many mothers would be apart from their adult children on the new holiday. General John J. Pershing urged his soldiers to write letters home to, as he put it, “Carry back our courage and our affection to the patriotic women whose love and prayers inspire us and cheer us on to victory.”

This seemed a particularly important way to honor these women who not only raised patriotic children eager to defend our way of life, but also to acknowledge their impressive efforts as nurses, yeoman clerical workers, “Hello Girls” telephone operators, donut dollies with the Red Cross or Salvation Army and those who picked up the slack in the civilian workforce.

Serving their country is nothing new for women or mothers. Mothers have volunteered to serve in the military since the Revolutionary War when they held traditional roles as nurses, seamstresses, cooks and since 2015 – in direct frontline combat roles. Women were 16.5% of all active-duty personnel in 2018 and make up 10% of all military veterans, a percentage that is likely to increase rapidly in the next decade, according to Pentagon data. Women veterans hold many roles, including that of mothers, but their contributions have often gone unrecognized, according to experts.

We invite you to help us change that. On Thursday, May 6 at 12 noon EST, the Veterans History Project (VHP) of the Library of Congress will host a virtual panel discussion titled “Motherhood and the Military.” The panel will be presented through the VHP Facebook page where panelists and moderators will be available to answer questions and address remarks in the comments section.

Graphic advertisement for "Motherhood and the Military" panel discussion.  Image has purple background has VHP logo and photos of four women in different situations with other individuals

Moderated by the Acting Executive Director for the VA Center for Women Veterans, Liz Estabrooks, the discussion will include special introductions by Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), both of whom are military veterans and mothers. Senator Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran, is the first female double amputee to serve in the Senate, while Senator Ernst, who won reelection last year, was the first female combat veteran to serve in that chamber.

The panel will feature mothers from different military branches who have served our nation through various generations and armed conflicts. They will discuss the trials of parenting and fulfilling operational obligations, coping with deployments and the uncertainty that comes with military service.

Panel discussion members for the program include:

  • Chief Warrant Officer 5 Candy Martin (U.S. Army, retired) – Martin served 38 years with the U.S. Army, including a deployment to Iraq in 2005.  Her son, Lt. Tom Martin, deployed to Iraq and was killed in action two years later.  Past president of American Gold Star Mothers, Inc, Martin remains very active in the veteran service community.
  • Command Sergeant Major Rue Mayweather (U.S. Army, retired) – Mayweather served 30 years in the U.S. Army.  She and her son, Capt. Kenieth Mayweather, both deployed to Iraq in 2014 in support of Operation New Dawn
  • Dr. Rupa Dainer (U.S. Navy veteran) – Dainer remembers having “50,000 emotions” when she learned she would deploy to Afghanistan in the parking lot of her daughters’ daycare in 2010. The Navy doctor prepared her daughters (four and two at the time) for the time away from their mother by putting together videos, calendars and more.
  • Mary Dever (U.S. Air Force veteran) – Dever served as an embedded Air Force broadcast journalist in Iraq and Afghanistan. She spent her final three years of service as an instructor.  When she became pregnant, Dever relied on a support system of other mothers in uniform who stressed the importance of knowing your regulations and fighting for one’s rights. Dever continues to fight for veteran rights through her work with DAV (Disabled American Veterans).

We look forward to seeing you there and we wish all of you mothers and mother figures a very happy upcoming Mother’s Day!

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