In December of 2013, South African President and famed anti-apartheid champion Nelson Mandela passed away. Admirers the world over gathered to mourn the hero, full of heartache and reverence, open to unprecedented displays of unity (President Obama famously shook hands with Raul Castro). Mandela was an inspiration and a teacher to many. He revealed the depth of human potential. He was a model of virtue, illuminating paradoxical life truths, exemplifying how sometimes you must give up something important to gain something important, even if that former “something” is your personal freedom. Though he “no longer belongs to us, [but]…the ages,” his wisdom has a timeless quality, which, in an era of cutthroat politics and ruthless individualism, helps restore our faith in humanity.
While Mandela is an obvious, well-celebrated example of heroism, he’s far from alone. Every day we encounter people—whether in our own lives or in the folds of a newspaper—whose intelligence and selflessness teaches us important lessons and (ideally) influences the trajectory of our own lives. These unsung heroes fall into myriad categories, but with a certain holiday on the horizon, we’ve got moms on our minds. Now, just to clarify, we believe all devoted mothers are heroes—especially those single ladies out there who are juggling life, career and childrearing all on their own. That said, we’d like to tell the story of ten especially estimable mamas who are worthy of far more recognition than they’ve formerly received. Their heroic acts (and we’re not just talking forgoing an epidural) have made the world a better place for generations to come, even though, up until now, you’ve probably never heard their names.