Tough Ass Moms In History

The DCist
Famous Fierce Mothers In Pop Culture
Feb 22, 2013


Sponsored by the new ABC drama, Red Widow: Gangsters may be tough, but they are nothing compared to the strength of a mother trying to raise and protect her children. Here are a few examples of some truly tough moms, including the amazing, misguided, and criminal:

ERIN BROCKOVICH: Before she was famously portrayed by Julia Roberts in an Oscar-winning role, Erin Brockovich was a divorced single mother of three who had been struggling to make ends meet. While working at Masry & Vititoe, she stumbled upon the case that would become the largest direct action lawsuit in U.S. history. Now Brockovich is a world-renowned consumer advocate and speaks about personal empowerment.

WANDA HOLLOWAY: One of the most infamous crimes of the 1990s was the attempted killing of Texas junior high school cheerleader’s mother. Wanda Holloway was so upset that her daughter Shanna didn’t get a spot on the cheerleading squad at Channelview High that she asked her ex-brother-in-law to kill Verna Heath, the mother of the girl who apparently took Shanna’s spot. Holloway thought that the girl would be so distraught by her mother’s death that she would drop out of the squad–giving Shanna a spot.
Luckily, the ex-brother-in-law went to the police and Holloway was arrested and served time for solicitation of capital murder (six months in prison, nine and a half years on probation). An HBO movie starring Holly Hunter was filmed, The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom. Today, it turns out Shanna never even really wanted to be a cheerleader.

JEANNE MANFORD: While Jeanne Manford’s name isn’t a household one, it’s an important one: In 1973, she decided to march in an early version of NYC’s Gay Pride parade alongside her son. Then she founded PFLAG, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Manford became an advocate for gay rights after her son Morty was beaten up and the NYPD didn’t do anything–she wrote a letter to the NY Post, stating, “I have a homosexual son, and I love him,” and inspired others to admit the same of their children.

MARIA VON TRAPP: Though she was just their teacher, Maria Kutschera really loved the children of the widowed naval commander she worked for. And when Captain Georg von Trapp proposed, she struggled with the decision, “I really and truly was not in love. I liked him but didn’t love him. However, I loved the children, so in a way I really married the children…. I learned to love him more than I have ever loved before or after.” Hollywood caught on, making their story a rosier romance.

AMY CHUA: In early 2011, Yale Law School professor Amy Chua struck a chord when her essay, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” was published in the Wall Street Journal. It was an excerpt of her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, outlining her annoyance with Western parenting and her success with raising her daughters under the (mostly) strict tough love that Asian parents follow, like criticizing the homemade card one daughter made her (“I get you huge ice cream cakes shaped like penguins…I work so hard to give you good birthdays! I deserve better than this. So I reject this”). One of her two daughters now attends Harvard, so Chua’s job is only half done.

“MAMA” ROSE THOMPSON HOVICK: Considered the ultimate stage mom (sorry, Dina Lohan), Rose Thompson Hovick was the mother of burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee and actress June Havoc. Gypsy Rose Lee’s memoir, detailing her life as a child performer, became the basis of the great American musical Gypsy. The musical by Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents focuses on “Mama” Rose and her hopes and dreams of fame for her daughters and herself.

ANNA GRISTINA, THE “MILLIONAIRE MADAM”: Last year, a New York woman was arrested, accused of running a multi-million dollar prostitution ring out of a Manhattan apartment. While allegations claimed she was bragging about funneling money into off-shore accounts and that she had a juicy client list, Anna Gristina insisted she was innocent, simply running a dating business, with the mother of four saying, “I’ve been struggling to keep my daughter in college to pay the tuition. Our utilities are always on the verge of being shut off. I can show you the bills.”

Gristina tearfully discussed wanting to get out of prison to care for her children and beloved pigs. In the end, she pleaded guilty to promoting prostitution, a charge that helps her avoid from spilling any famous names.

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