The year was 1946; the second World War had ended and massive efforts to rebuild a post world war had begun.
A call came through a Louisville home of a 71-year-old woman and granddaughter of an escaped slave, Emma Clarissa Clement. But she had left to a district church conference in Springfield, Ky, so her daughter took the message – Emma had just been elected American Mother of 1946 by the Golden Rule Foundation.
The citation read: “A mother of children who are devotedly serving their country and their people, a partner in her husband’s ministry in his lifetime, a social and community worker in her own right.”
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Established in 1935, the American Mother of the Year award was introduced by the American Mothers Committee of the Golden Rule Foundation.
Founded by Eleanor Roosevelt, Sara Delano Roosevelt, Mamie Eisenhower, JC Penney, and Norman Vincent Peale, the organization recognizes mothers from all walks of life who have “used the role to provide inspiration and instruction to the nation’s future.”
When Emma was selected in 1946, there had been more than 10 winners earlier, but what made hers historic was the fact that she was the first African-American woman to have been chosen for the award.
At the time she was alerted of the award, the widow had achieved much as a mother, civic leader and religious educator in the state of Kentucky. Her seven children – four sons and three daughters – had also attained distinguished roles in society.
Born in Providence, Emma went South to college, Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina, the largest school of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
While at Livingstone, she met George Clinton Clement, born and raised in the South and studying for the ministry. They married on graduation day. After George’s death, Clement went on to raise their seven children, four of whom will become college professors.
All seven of the children also graduated from Livingstone College, which is closely affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
One of the children, Abbie Clement Jackson followed her mother’s footsteps as a civic and religious leader, and once was selected among ten outstanding citizens of Kentucky.
“Three sons distinguished themselves in the field of education. Dr. Rufus Clement was the eminent president of Atlanta University. Frederick was a professor of Physics at West Virginia State College. James left his teaching duties at Hood Theological Seminary to serve as a U.S. Army Chaplain, with the rank of major.
“Emma Clement Walker, the youngest daughter, was an English professor at Tuskegee Institute. Ruth served with her husband in Haiti where he directed the inter-American Education Foundation. George Jr. was with the American Red Cross in Italy at the time of his Mother’s selection,” said a report by americanmothers.org.
Emma raised three other children, all of whom finished college.
When Emma won the award, she accepted the honour “in the name of millions of Negroes in the United States and in the name of all mothers.”
Known as the “most church going and charitable woman ever” by her friends, Emma continued working in the state for the A.M.E. Zion church until her passing on December 16, 1952, at the age of 78.
Below are past winners of the American Mother of the Year Award:
Meet Karen Smoots, 2018 National Mother of the Year
2017 Rebecca Latham, New Mexico
2016 Michelle Wall, Delaware
2015 Deb Stanaland, Oklahoma
2014 Gerre Schwert, Tennessee
2013 Judy Cook, Utah
2012 Dr. Ruby Cheves, Georgia
2011 Ernestine Allen, District of Columbia
2010 Dianne Dain Callister, California
2009 Betty Jean Ulmer McGregor, South Carolina
2008 Jo Ellen Blackwood, West Virginia
2007 Ileen Loosle Barlow, Oregon
2006 Laurie Richardson, Nevada
2005 Helen Bean, Oregon
2004 Mary Connelly Kegelman, Delaware
2003 Mervlyn Keapo Swain Kitashima, Hawaii
2002 Rosalie Fuscaldo Gaziano, West Virginia
2001 Jean “Dawn” Morris, South Dakota
2000 Dorothy E. Barta, Texas
1999 Gail Ford Williamson, California
1998 Diane Stirland Matthews, Arizona
1997 Deen Day Smith, Georgia
1996 Carolyn Shumway, Hawaii
1995 Barbara Thompson, Oklahoma
1994 Corrine “Lindy” Boggs, District of Columbia*
1993 Ruby Washington, Nebraska
1992 Johanna Cubbage, Wyoming
1991 Joan R. Burney, Nebraska
1990 Nadine M. Matus, Utah
1989 Nancy Dinwiddie Hawk, South Carolina*
1988 Thelma Loss Kouzes, Virginia
1987 Rita Whalen McCaffrey, Vermont
1986 Martha Burke, Montana*
1985 Louise Monaco Cimino, Nebraska
1984 Patricia Kane Hamilton, Georgia
1983 Clemmie Webber, South Carolina*
1982 Helen Marie Burnstad Thompson, Idaho*
1981 Henrietta Jean Wombles Crouch, Kansas
1980 Betty Carol Leggett Lieder, Iowa
1979 Frances Davis Burtenshaw, Utah
1978 Ellen Edens McCall, Tennessee
1977 Gloria Berry Langdon, Oklahoma*
1976 Maxine Carnett Grindstaff, New Mexico
1975 Josephine Wainman Burson, Tennessee
1974 Phyllis Brown Marriott, District of Columbia*
1974 Golda Meir, World Mother, Israel*
1973 Ruth Youngdahl Nelson, Minnesota*
1972 Esther Hunt Moore, North Carolina
1971 Betty Anthony Zahn, Oklahoma*
1970 Dorothy Lee Wilson, Tennessee*
1969 E. Peterson LeTourneau, Texas*
1968 Elisabeth Grossman Bodine, North Dakota*
1967 Minnie Knoop Guenther, Arizona*
1966 Bertha Holt, Oregon*
1965 Lorena Chipman Fletcher, Utah*
1964 Cora Hjertaa Stavig, South Dakota*
1963 Olga Pearson Engdahl, Nebraska
1962 Clara Spoat Glen, World Mother, Ohio*
1962 Mary Celesta Weatherly, Alabama*
1961 Louise Giddings Currey, Tennessee*
1960 Emerald Barman Arbogast, California
1959 Jeannie Loitman Barron, Massachusetts*
1958 Mary Roper Coker, South Carolina*
1957 Hazel Hempel Able, Nebraska*
1956 Jane Maxwell Pritchard, Michigan*
1955 Lavina Christensen Fugal, Utah*
1954 Love McDuffie Tolbert, Georgia*
1953 Ethlyn Weisgarver Bott, Illinois*
1952 Toy Len Goon, Maine*
1951 Mary Martin Sloop, North Carolina*
1950 Elizabeth Roe Cloud, Oregon*
1949 Pearl Owens Grills, Texas*
1948 Helen Gartside Hines, Illinois*
1947 Janette Stevenson Murray, Iowa*
1946 Emma Clarissa Clemont, Kentucky*
1945 Georgiana Farr Sibley, New York*
1944 Harriet Duff Phillips, Pennsylvania*
1943 Mary Dabney Thompson, Ohio*
1942 Elizabeth Vize Berry, North Carolina*
1941 Dena Shelby Diehl, Kentucky*
1940 Edith Graham Mayo, Minnesota*
1939 Otelia Katherine Compton, Ohio*
1938 Grace Noll Crowell, Texas*
1937 Harriette Flora Gray, Nebraska*
1936 Frances Elenore Smith, California*
1935 Lucy Keen Johnson, Georgia*