Since the dawn of man, grandmothers have been a vital part of the family unit and have long been a source of love, advice, and strength. While many grandmas have similarities (especially in nurturing and spoiling!), no two are ever the same, with each grandma unique in her own way. However, when it comes to these 13 famous grandmas throughout history, God broke the mold, making them stand out in many unique ways:
While we can make an entire list out of just grandmothers in the royal family, Queen Victoria (1837-1901) is worth noting, as her nickname was that of the “grandmother of Europe.” Marrying her first cousin, Prince Albert, in 1840, Queen Victoria would go on to have 42 grandchildren (only 32 of whom would survive into adulthood), many of who would carry on the lineage throughout the continent.
Marie Curie made history and broke barriers as a female scientist, as the first woman to win two Nobel Peace Prizes, and for discovering radium. However, when she wasn’t in the lab, Curie raised Irene and Eve with her research partner and husband, Pierre. With children often come grandchildren, and the Curies were no exception. Though Marie would die from aplastic anemia (likely from radiation exposure) at the age of 66, she still got to know her grandchildren, with granddaughter Hélène Langevin-Joliot sharing that her grandmother was a “loving and sweet woman who played with her in the park, took her for a walk along the shore of the Seine and wrapped her with love and tenderness.”
Arguably one of the most prolific poets and memoirists of all time, Maya Angelou is remembered as one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century, as well as one of the most inspiring. Despite facing countless obstacles and barriers throughout her life, Angelou did all the above while fighting for Civil Rights and raising her son, Gus Johnson. In addition to her son, Angelou’s family consisted of one grandson and two great-grandsons.
You know we couldn’t have a list of the coolest grandmas without Anna Mary Robertson Moses, AKA Grandma Moses. Born in 1860, Moses was a farmer’s wife, mother, and grandmother who took up painting in her late 70s once her arthritis made it too difficult for her to embroider. Moses had a knack for painting rural scenes and became one of the most famous Americana artists. (You can learn much more about Grandma Moses’ incredible life and career here.)
Is there anything that Martha Stewart CAN’T do? Since the early 1980s, Martha Stewart has been a household name, thanks to her line of cookbooks, TV shows, household products, magazines, and other various endeavors. Stewart is the mother of Alexis and the grandmother of Truman and Jude. (Can we all take a moment to acknowledge how spectacular holidays and family gatherings would be with Martha Stewart as your grandma?)
Jackie Kennedy Onassis
One of the most recognizable figures of the mid-to-late 20th Century, Jackie Kennedy Onassis wore many hats, including that of First Lady, fashion icon, journalist, wife, and mother to Caroline, John Jr., Arabella, and Patrick. While Arabella and Patrick would tragically pass away during infancy, Jackie would see her other two children grow into adulthood, with Caroline giving birth to three children, Rose, Tatiana, and John Schlossberg.
Based on what I remember from my Ancient Egypt class (c. 1960-something), Cleopatra was not a nurturing, motherly figure, but apparently, she was to children Cleopatra Selene II, Alexander Helios, and Ptolemy Philadelphos, and Caesarion. While she never got to know them, Cleopatra was also a grandmother to future generations of Egyptian royalty.
Talk about a mother’s love: Sojourner Truth, who was born into slavery and successfully sued to get her 5-year-old son out of it after he was illegally sold to a man in Alabama, fought long and hard to give her children and grandchildren a better life. It was an uphill battle, but Truth and other black leaders would prevail via the emancipation of enslaved people and other causes like voting and property rights.
While Hoelun may not be a recognizable household name, her son, Genghis Khan, certainly is! Aside from being one tough mother (she mothered five children with her kidnapper, later escaped, and served as her famous son’s advisor while caring for war orphans), she was one cool grandma with dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren to carry on the family dynasty.
Irena Sendler is another one of those names that you may not know off the top of your head, but you should, as she saved more Jews from the Holocaust than anyone else. How did she rescue and protect 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto? The mother of three smuggled them out before giving them new identities in homes and orphanages. In addition to mothering her biological children and saving thousands of others, Sendler also enjoyed her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Beginning in the 1970s, Lou Xiaoying – who made ends meet by recycling garbage – saved abandoned babies on the streets of China. By her death, she had rescued 30+ infants, raising four and giving the others away to trusted friends and family. Even in her 80s, when most are retired and enjoying a slower pace, Xiaoying was raising a little boy she had recently found, citing, “These children need love and care. They are all precious human lives. I do not understand how people can leave such a vulnerable baby on the streets.”
Let’s hear it for the foundress of Mother’s Day, Ann Jarvis! An activist and community organizer during the Civil War, Jarvis hosted a post-war Mothers’ Friendship Day celebration in 1868, a Mothers’ Peace Day in 1870, and finally, the first Mother’s Day in 1873. Thank you, Mrs. Jarvis, for creating such a special holiday for moms and grandmas everywhere!
What better grandma to end our list than Wilma Mankiller, the first woman elected to serve as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation? Not only was this mother of two and grandmother of four the Chief from 1985 through 1995, but she was also a social worker, community organizer, and Native American activist.
Oops, I just realized I forgot to add one more fantastic and downright historical grandma: YOU! Keep doing what you’re doing, grandma, as you are just as fascinating (if not more so) to so many than all of these legendary grandmas combined.