Despite our fervent efforts to avoid turning into our mothers, we all carry parts of the women who made us. Mothers can serve as examples, as sounding boards, as anchors, and as support systems, and we need more than a holiday to acknowledge just how formative they are.
Here are 12 women who represent the highest levels of achievement in their respective fields honoring the women who shaped them.
"She was very busy, and she did not suffer fools. Her no-nonsense attitude is the single best thing I got from her. We're hungry, ambitious people. It's a family trait."
—Mindy Kaling in Good Housekeeping
Mindy Kaling is a writer, actress, and producer known for her work on The Office and as the creator and star of The Mindy Project. Her hilarious memoir Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) came out in 2011, and her second book, Why Not Me?, is forthcoming this year.
“When my mother took her turn to sit in a gown at her graduation, she thought she only had two career options: nursing and teaching. She raised me and my sister to believe that we could do anything, and we believed her.”
—Sheryl Sandberg at Barnard’s 2011 commencement
Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook and author of Lean In, the book that launched the Lean In movement. Among her many accolades, she appeared in the Time 100 in 2012, as well as Fortune Magazine’s yearly 50 Most Powerful Women in Business List on five separate occasions.
“My mother was a continual source of wisdom and great advice...she taught me that there is always a way around a problem — you've just got to find it. Keep trying doors; one will eventually open. She also taught me to accept failure as part and parcel of life. It's not the opposite of success; it's an integral part of success.”
—Arianna Huffington in The Best Advice I Ever Got: Lessons From Extraordinary Lives
Arianna Huffington is a writer, co-founder, and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, and former gubernatorial candidate in California. Forbes ranked her the 52nd most powerful woman in the world in 2014.
“She made me feel like I had a voice and that no matter what would happen, I knew she’d love me.”
—Angelina Jolie on Anderson
Angelina Jolie is an actress, director, and activist. In addition to her Oscar and three Golden Globes, Jolie is known for her humanitarian work around the globe. She serves as a Special Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and has written publicly about her preventive mastectomy and oophorectomy to provide awareness and education about breast and ovarian cancers.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
“My mother told me two things constantly. One was to be a lady, and the other was to be independent. The study of law was unusual for women of my generation. For most girls growing up in the '40s, the most important degree was not your B.A., but your M.R.S.”
—Ruth Bader Ginsburg via the ACLU
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the second female and first Jewish female Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court — a position she has held since 1993. She is a staunch supporter of women’s rights, and her dissenting opinion on the Hobby Lobby contraception verdict, among others, earned her the title of Notorious RBG.
On the best advice she ever received:
"It probably goes back to my mother, and just the advice of hard work — and there's no substitute for it."
—Mary Barra on ABC News
Mary Barra is the CEO of General Motors, making her the first female CEO of a major carmaker. She landed on the cover of Time’s 2014 “100 Most Influential People in the World Issue,” and helmed GM during 84 safety recalls.
“My mother's love has always been a sustaining force for our family, and one of my greatest joys is seeing her integrity, her compassion, her intelligence reflected in my daughters.”
—Michelle Obama in her 2008 Democratic Convention speech
While Michelle Obama is predominantly known as the First Lady of the United States, she is also a lawyer, writer, and activist. Obama has been an active participant in both of her husband’s presidential campaigns, and a noted advocate for nutrition, physical activity, and poverty awareness.
“One day, after some petty humiliation, I came home in tears. My mother sat me down and told me … I should ignore the chattering crowds and set my own course…. And coming from my mother, who had chosen the then-traditional path in life of Southern homemaker, her implicit permission for me to stand away from the crowd packed a punch.”
—Sallie Krawcheck in Business Insider
Sallie Krawcheck is the former president of global wealth and investment management at Bank of America, and is one of the most prominent women on Wall Street. She currently manages Ellevate, a network of 34,000 members dedicated to connecting, educating, and investing in women.
“[My mother] said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors.”
—Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou was a poet, writer, and actress, most famous for her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969. Over the course of her career, Angelou won a Pulitzer Prize, three Grammys, and received a Tony Award nomination. In addition to more than 50 honorary degrees, she received the National Medal of Arts in 2000 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010. She died in 2014.
“I think my mother ... made it clear that you have to live life by your own terms and you have to not worry about what other people think and you have to have the courage to do the unexpected.”
—Caroline Kennedy in a 2009 interview
As the daughter of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy has been in the public eye for most of her life. She has worked as an attorney and spokesperson for the Kennedy family and has written multiple books. Kennedy currently serves as the United States Ambassador to Japan.
“My mother is a big believer in being responsible for your own happiness. She always talked about finding joy in small moments and insisted that we stop and take in the beauty of an ordinary day. When I stop the car to make my kids really see a sunset, I hear my mother's voice and smile.”
—Jennifer Garner in a 2012 interview
Jennifer Garner is an actress and producer who rose to fame in the early 2000s on the drama Alias, which won her a Golden Globe. She has appeared in numerous movies since then, including The Dallas Buyers Club, Juno, and 13 Going On 30.
“My mother, more than anyone else, taught me about the power of aspiration and courage…. And she did it with a strength and a passion that I wish could be bottled.”
—Carly Fiorina, 2000 MIT commencement speech
Carly Fiorina is running for President in the 2016 election as a Republican. Previously, Fiorina was the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, and the Republican nominee for the California U.S. Senate seat in 2010.