On this Mother's Day 2017, I thought it very fitting to post a chapter from Orison Swett Marden's book, Pushing to the Front where he wrote on the importance of mothers. Additional words are simply not necessary except that keep in mind this was written in the late 1890s, early 1900s and the reference to "man" is gender neutral as it was in language and writing of that period in our history.
Pushing to the Front
Orison Swett Marden
"All that I am or hope to be," said Lincoln, after he had become President, "I owe to my angel mother." "My mother was the making of me," said Thomas Edison, recently. "She was so true, so sure of me; and I felt that I had someone to live for; someone I must not disappoint." "All that I have ever accomplished in life," declared Dwight L. Moody, the great evangelist, "I owe to my mother." "To the man who has had a good mother, all women are sacred for her sake," said Jean Paul Richter.
The testimony of great men in acknowledgment of the boundless debt they owe to their mothers would make a record stretching from the dawn of history to today. Few men, indeed, become great who do not owe their greatness to a mother's love and inspiration. How often we hear people in every walk of life say, "I never could have done this thing but for my mother. She believed in me, encouraged me when others saw nothing in me." "A kiss from my mother made me a painter," said Benjamin West. A distinguished man of today says: "I never could have reached my present position had I not known that my mother expected me to reach it. From a child she made me feel that this was the position she expected me to fill; and her faith spurred me on and gave me the power to attain it."
Everything that a man has and is he owes to his mother. From her he gets health, brain, encouragement, moral character, and all his chances of success. "In the shadow of every great man's fame walks his mother," says Dorothy Dix. "She has paid the price of his success. She went down into the Valley of the Shadow to give him life, and every day for years and years thereafter she toiled incessantly to push him on toward his goal. "She gave the labor of her hands for his support; she poured into him ambition when he grew discouraged; she supplemented his weakness with her strength; she filled him with her hope and faith when his own failed. "At last he did the Big Thing, and people praised him, and acclaimed him, and nobody thought of the quiet, insignificant little woman in the background, who had been the real power behind the throne. Sometimes even the king himself forgets who was the kingmaker."
Many a man is enjoying a fame which is really due to a self-effacing, sacrificing mother. People hurrah for the governor, or mayor, or congressman, but the real secret of his success is often tucked away in that little unknown, unappreciated, unheralded mother. His education and his chance to rise may have been due to her sacrifices. It is a strange fact that our mothers, the molders of the world, should get so little credit and should be so seldom mentioned among the world's achievers. The world sees only the successful son; the mother is but a round in the ladder upon which he has climbed. Her name or face is seldom seen in the papers; only her son is lauded and held up to our admiration. Yet it was that sweet, pathetic figure in the background that made his success possible. The woman who merits the greatest fame is the woman who gives a brilliant mind to the world. The mothers of great men and women deserve just as much honor as the great men and women themselves, and they will receive it from the better understanding of the coming days. "A wife may do much toward polishing up a man and boosting him up the ladder, but unless his mother first gave him the intellect to scintillate and the muscles to climb with, the wife labors in vain," continues Dorothy Dix, in the Evening Journal. "You cannot make a clod shine. You cannot make a mollusk aspire. You must have the material to work with, to produce results.
"By the time a man is married his character is formed, and he changes very little. His mother has made him; and no matter how hard she tries, there is very little that his wife can do toward altering him. "It is not the philosophies, the theories, the code of ethics that a man acquires in his older years that really influence him. It is the things that he learned at his mother's knee, the principles that she instilled in him in his very cradle, the taste and habits that she formed, the strength and courage that she breathed into him. "It is the childish impressions that count. It is the memory of whispered prayers, of bedtime stories, of old ideals held unfalteringly before a boy's gaze; it is half-forgotten songs, and dim visions of heroes that a mother taught her child to worship, that make the very warp and woof of the soul. "It is the pennies, that a mother teaches a boy to save and the self-denial that she inculcates in doing it, that form the real foundation of the fortune of the millionaire. "It is the mother that loves books, and who gives her sons her love of learning, who bestows the great scholars, the writers, and orators, on the world. "It is the mother that worships science, who turns the eyes of the child upon her breast up to the wonder of the stars, and who teaches the little toddler at her side to observe the marvel of beast, and bird, and flower, and all created things, whose sons become the great astronomers and naturalists, and biologists."
The very atmosphere that radiates from and surrounds the mother is the inspiration and constitutes the holy of holies of family life. "In my mother's presence," said a prominent man, "I become for the time transformed into another person." How many of us have felt the truth of this statement! How ashamed we feel when we meet her eyes, that we have ever harbored an unholy thought, or dishonorable suggestion! It seems impossible to do wrong while under that magic influence. What revengeful plans, what thoughts of hatred and jealousy, have been scattered to the four winds while in the mother's presence! Her children go out from communion with her resolved to be better men, nobler women, truer citizens. "How many of us have stood and watched with admiration the returning victor of some petty battle, cheering until we were hoarse, exhausting ourselves with the vehemence of our enthusiasm," says a writer, "when right beside us, possibly touching our hand, was one greater than he? One whose battle has not been petty—whose conflict has not been of short duration, but has for us fought many a severe fight. "When we had the scarlet fever or diphtheria and not one would come near us, who held the cup of cold water to our fever-parched lips? Who bent over us day and night and fought away with almost supernatural strength the greatest of all enemies—death? The world's greatest heroine—Mother! Who is it that each Sunday dinner-time chose the neck of the chicken that we might have the juicy wing or breast or leg? Who is it stays home from the concert, the social, the play, that we may go with the others and not be stinted for small change? Who is it crucifies her love of pretty clothes, her desire for good things, her longing for pleasure that we may have all these? Who is it? Mother!"
The greatest heroine in the world is the mother. No one else makes such sacrifices, or endures anything like the suffering that she uncomplainingly endures for her children. What is the giving of one's life in battle or in a wreck at sea to save another, in comparison with the perpetual sacrifice of many mothers of a living death lasting for half a century or more? How the world's heroes dwindle in comparison with the mother heroine! There is no one in the average family, the value of whose services begins to compare with those of the mother, and yet there is no one who is more generally neglected or taken advantage of. She must remain at home evenings, and look after the children, when the others are out having a good time. Her cares never cease. She is responsible for the housework, for the preparation of meals; she has the children's clothes to make or mend, there is company to be entertained, darning to be done, and a score of little duties which must often be attended to at odd moments, snatched from her busy days, and she is often up working at night, long after everyone else in the house is asleep. No matter how loving or thoughtful the father may be, the heavier burdens, the greater anxieties, the weightier responsibilities of the home, of the children, usually fall on the mother. Indeed, the very virtues of the good mother are a constant temptation to the other members of the family, especially the selfish ones, to take advantage of her. They seem to take it for granted that they can put all their burdens on the patient, uncomplaining mother; that she will always do anything to help out, and to enable the children to have a good time; and in many homes, sad to say, the mother, just because of her goodness, is shamefully imposed upon and neglected. "Oh, mother won't mind, mother will stay at home." How often we hear remarks like this from thoughtless children! It is always the poor mother on whom the burden falls; and the pathetic thing is that she rarely gets much credit or praise. Many mothers in the poor and working classes practically sacrifice all that most people hold dearest in life for their children. They deliberately impair their health, wear themselves out, make all sorts of sacrifices, to send a worthless boy to college. They take in washing, go out house-cleaning, do the hardest and most menial work, in order to give their boys and girls an education and the benefit of priceless opportunities that they never had; yet, how often, they are rewarded only with total indifference and neglect!
Some time ago I heard of a young girl, beautiful, gay, full of spirit and vigor, who married and had four children. Her husband died penniless, and the mother made the most heroic efforts to educate the children. By dint of unremitting toil and unheard of sacrifices and privations she succeeded in sending the boys to college and the girls to a boarding-school. When they came home, pretty, refined girls and strong young men, abreast with all the new ideas and tastes of their times, she was a worn-out, commonplace old woman. They had their own pursuits and companions. She lingered unappreciated among them for two or three years, and then died, of some sudden failure of the brain. The shock of her fatal illness woke them to consciousness of the truth. They hung over her, as she lay prostrate, in an agony of grief. The oldest son, as he held her in his arms, cried: "You have been a good mother to us!" Her face brightened, her eyes kindled into a smile, and she whispered: "You never said so before, John." Then the light died out, and she was gone.
Many men spend more money on expensive caskets, flowers, and emblems of mourning than they ever spent on their poor, loving, self-sacrificing mothers for many years while alive. Men who, perhaps, never thought of carrying flowers to their mothers in life, pile them high on their coffins. Who can ever depict the tragedies that have been enacted in the hearts of American mothers, who have suffered untold tortures from neglect, indifference, and lack of appreciation? What a pathetic story of neglect many a mother's letters from her grown-up children could tell! A few scraggy lines, a few sentences now and then, hurriedly written and mailed—often to ease a troubled conscience—mere apologies for letters, which chill the mother heart.
I know men who owe their success in life to their mother; who have become prosperous and influential, because of the splendid training of the self-sacrificing mother, and whose education was secured at an inestimable cost to her, and yet they seldom think of carrying to her flowers, confectionery, or little delicacies, or of taking her to a place of amusement, or of giving her a vacation or bestowing upon her any of the little attentions and favors so dear to a woman's heart. They seem to think she is past the age for these things, that she no longer cares for them, that about all she expects is enough to eat and drink, and the simplest kind of raiment. These men do not know the feminine heart which never changes in these respects, except to grow more appreciative of the little attentions, the little considerations, and thoughtful acts which meant so much to them in their younger days.
Not long ago I heard a mother, whose sufferings and sacrifices for her children during a long and trying struggle with poverty should have given her a monument, say, that she guessed she'd better go to an old ladies' home and end her days there. What a picture that was! An aged woman with white hair and a sweet, beautiful face; with a wonderful light in her eye; calm, serene, and patient, yet dignified, whose children, all of whom are married and successful, made her feel as if she were a burden! They live in luxurious homes, but have never offered to provide a home for the poor, old rheumatic mother, who for so many years slaved for them. They put their own homes, stocks, and other property in their wives' names, and while they pay the rent of their mother's meagerly furnished rooms and provide for her actual needs, they apparently never think what joy it would give her to own her own home, and to possess some pretty furnishings, and a few pictures.
In many cases men through thoughtlessness do not provide generously for their mothers even when well able to. They seem to think that a mother can live most anywhere, and most anyway; that if she has enough to supply her necessities she is satisfied. Just think, you prosperous business men, how you would feel if the conditions were reversed, if you were obliged to take the dependent, humiliating position of your mother! Whatever else you are obliged to neglect, take no chances of giving your mother pain by neglecting her, and of thus making yourself miserable in the future. The time may come when you will stand by her bedside, in her last sickness, or by her coffin, and wish that you had exchanged a little of your money for more visits and more attentions and more little presents to your mother; when you will wish that you had cultivated her more, even at the cost of making a little less money.
There is no one else in this world who can take your mother's place in your life. And there is no remorse like that which comes from the remembrance of ill-treating, abusing, or being unkind to one's mother. These things stand out with awful vividness and terrible clearness when the mother is gone forever from sight, and you have time to contrast your treatment with her long suffering, tenderness, and love, and her years of sacrifice for you.
One of the most painful things I have ever witnessed was the anguish of a son who had become wealthy and in his prosperity neglected the mother, whose sacrifices alone had made his success possible. He did not take the time to write to her more than twice a year, and then only brief letters. He was too busy to send a good long letter to the poor old lonely mother back in the country, who had risked her life and toiled and sacrificed for years for him! Finally, when he was summoned to her bedside in the country, in her last sickness, and realized that his mother had been for years without the ordinary comforts of life, while he had been living in luxury, he broke down completely. And while he did everything possible to alleviate her suffering, in the few last days that remained to her on earth, and gave her an imposing burial, what torture he must have suffered, at this pitiful picture of his mother who had sacrificed everything for him! "The regrets for thoughtless acts and indifference to admonitions now felt and expressed by many living sons of dead mothers will, in time, be felt and expressed by the living sons of living mothers," says Richard L. Metcalfe, in the "Commoner." "The boys of to-day who do not understand the value of the mother's companionship will yet sing—with those who already know—this song of tribute and regret: "'The hours I spent with thee, dear heart, Are as a string of pearls to me; I count them over, every one apart, My rosary. "'Each hour a pearl, each pearl a prayer, To still a heart in absence wrung; I tell each bead unto the end, and there A cross is hung. "'O memories that bless—and burn! Oh mighty gain and bitter loss! I kiss each bead and strive at last to learn To kiss the cross, Sweet heart, To kiss the cross.'"
No man worthy of the name ever neglects or forgets his mother. I have an acquaintance, of very poor parentage, who had a hard struggle to get a start in the world; but when he became prosperous and built his beautiful home, he finished a suite of rooms in it especially for his mother, furnished them with all conveniences and comforts possible, and insisted upon keeping a maid specially for her. Although she lives with her son's family, she is made to feel that this part of the great home is her own, and that she is as independent as though she lived in her own house. Every son should be ambitious to see his mother as well provided for as his wife. Really great men have always reverenced and cared tenderly for their mothers. President McKinley provided in his will that, first of all, his mother should be made comfortable for life. The first act of Garfield, after he was inaugurated President, was to kiss his aged mother, who sat near him, and who said this was the proudest and happiest moment of her life. Ex-President Loubet of France, even after his elevation to the presidency, took great pride in visiting his mother, who was a humble market gardener in a little French village. A writer on one occasion, describing a meeting between this mother and her son, says: "Her noted son awaited her in the market-place, as she drove up in her little cart loaded with vegetables. Assisting his mother to alight, the French President gave her his arm and escorted her to her accustomed seat. Then holding over her a large umbrella, to shield her from the threatening weather, he seated himself at her side, and mother and son enjoyed a long talk together."
I once saw a splendid young college graduate introduce his poor, plainly dressed old mother to his classmates with as much pride and dignity as though she was a queen. Her form was bent, her hands were calloused, she was prematurely old, and much of this deterioration was caused by all sorts of drudgery to help her boy to pay his college expenses. I have seen other college men whose mothers had made similar sacrifices, and who were ashamed to have them attend their graduating exercises, ashamed to introduce them to their classmates. Think of the humiliation and suffering of the slave mother, who has given all the best of her life to a large family, battling with poverty in her efforts to dignify her little home, and to give her children an education, when she realizes that she is losing ground intellectually, yet has no time or strength for reading, or self-culture, no opportunity for broadening her mental outlook by traveling or mingling with the world! But this is nothing compared to the anguish she endures, when, after the flower of her youth is gone and there is nothing left of her but the ashes of a burned-out existence, the shreds of a former superb womanhood, she awakes to the consciousness that her children are ashamed of her ignorance and desire to keep her in the background.
From babyhood children should be taught to look up to, not down on their mother. For that reason she should never appear before them in slovenly raiment, nor conduct herself in any way that would lessen their respect. She should keep up her intellectual culture that they may not advance beyond her understanding and sympathies. No matter how callous or ungrateful a son may be, no matter how low he may sink in vice or crime, he is always sure of his mother's love, always sure of one who will follow him even to his grave, if she is alive and can get there; of one who will cling to him when all others have fled.
It is forever true, as Kipling poignantly expresses it in his beautiful verses on "Mother Love":
"If I were hanged on highest hill,
Mother o' mine, O mother o' mine!
I know whose love would follow still,
Mother o' mine, O mother o' mine!
If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
Mother o' mine, O mother o' mine!
I know whose tears would come down to me,
Mother o' mine, O mother o' mine!
If I were cursed of body and soul,
Mother o' mine, O mother o' mine!
I know whose prayer's would make me whole!
Mother o' mine, O mother o' mine!"
One of the saddest sights I have ever seen was that of a poor, old, broken-down mother, whose life had been poured into her children, making a long journey to the penitentiary to visit her boy, who had been abandoned by everybody but herself. Poor old mother! It did not matter that he was a criminal, that he had disgraced his family, that everybody else had forsaken him, that he had been unkind to her—the mother's heart went out to him just the same. She did not see the hideous human wreck that crime had made. She saw only her darling boy, the child that God had given her, pure and innocent as in his childhood. Oh, there is no other human love like this, which follows the child from the cradle to the grave, never once abandons, never once forsakes him, no matter how unfortunate or degenerate he may become.
"So your best girl is dead," sneeringly said a New York magistrate to a young man who was arrested for attempting suicide. "Who was she?" Without raising his eyes, the unfortunate victim burst into tears and replied, "She was my mother!" The smile vanished from the magistrate's face and, with tears in his eyes, he said, "Young man, go and try to be a good man, for your mother's sake." How little we realize what tragedy may be going on in the hearts of those whom we sneeringly condemn!
What movement set on foot in recent years, deserves heartier support than that for the establishment of a national Mothers' Day? The day set apart as Mothers' Day by those who have inaugurated this movement is the second Sunday in May. Let us unite in doing all we can to make it a real Mothers' Day, by especially honoring our mothers; in the flesh, those of us who are so fortunate as to have our mothers with us; in the spirit, those who are not so fortunate. If away from her, write a good, loving letter, or telephone or telegraph to the best mother who ever lived—your mother. Send her some flowers, an appropriate present; go and spend the day with her, or in some other way make her heart glad. Show her that you appreciate her, and that you give her credit for a large part of your success. Let us do all we can to make up for past neglect of the little-known, half-appreciated, unheralded mothers who have had so little credit in the past, and are so seldom mentioned among the world's achievers, by openly, and especially in our hearts, paying our own mothers every tribute of honor, respect, devotion, and gratitude that love and a sense of duty can suggest. Let us acknowledge to the world the great debt we owe them by wearing, every one of us, boy and girl, man and woman, on Mothers' Day, a white carnation—the flower chosen as the symbol and emblem of motherhood. Happily chosen emblem! What could more fittingly represent motherhood with its whiteness symbolizing purity; its lasting qualities, faithfulness; its fragrance, love; its wide field of growth, charity; its form, beauty! What an impressive and beautiful tribute to motherhood it would be for a whole nation to unite one day in wearing its chosen emblem, and in song and speech, and other appropriate exercises, to honor its mothers!