It's not easy to be both a mother and a writer, but quite a few women have managed to be successful writers and mothers of large families!
There’s a popular idea that raising a large family is not compatible with creative work.
“There is no more somber enemy of good art than the pram in the hall,” writer Cyril Connolly once quipped.
This belief seems especially pervasive when it comes to women writers. Since child rearing tasks have disproportionately fallen on women throughout history, having a large family typically would affect a woman’s creative output even more than a man’s. Some writers have gone as far as to argue that “The secret to being both a successful writer and a mother” is to “have just one kid.”
Certainly no one would argue that it’s easy to be both a mother and a writer, but somehow quite a few women have managed to both be successful writers and mothers of large families. It makes me wonder to what extent motherhood actually can inspire women in their creative work.
I wanted to be a writer from a young age, so these women fascinated me. I quietly collected stories of writer-mothers the way other kids stockpiled Pokemon cards.
One day it occurred to me that other women with creative dreams might like to know about them too. If you want to know that it’s possible to have both lots of babies and a writing career, look no further than these inspiring women.
Hilda van Stockum
This Catholic mother of six won a Newbery Honor for one of her many delightful children’s chapter books. She was also a successful artist.
Sarah Josepha Hale
Mother of five children, Hale was a highly successful writer and magazine editor who wielded enormous national influence for decades. We have her to thank for the American Thanksgiving holiday and the song “Mary had a little lamb.”
Ida B. Wells
Ida Bell Wells-Barnett was an American investigative journalist, educator, speaker, and one of the founders of the NAACP. She wrote several books as well as writing and editing countless articles and speaking all over the world. She accomplished all this while raising her six children.
Anscombe was a professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge. Besides writing several books, her thinking influenced other writers like C.S. Lewis. Regarded as one of the greatest women philosophers, Anscombe was also Catholic and the mother of seven children.
Wolfe is an award-winning novelist for such books as The Confessions of X — which is on Aleteia’s 2023 Summer Book List. She has also worked as an instructor in English and Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University and executive editor of Image journal. She is the mother of four children.
The first writer in England’s North American colonies to be published and the most prominent early English poet of North America, Bradstreet was the mother of eight children.
Mary Church Terrell
Mother of five children, Terrell was a college educator and a prolific writer. She advocated for women’s suffrage and civil rights beginning in the 1800s.
Smith had a difficult and tragic life, but she was a very popular writer for a time. She wrote many volumes of poetry and 10 novels and was the mother of 12 children.
Mother of four children, Waldman has written several novels, including a popular mystery series.
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Stowe wrote over 30 books, including the highly influential Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and was the mother of seven children.
One of my favorite modern-day poets, Thomas writes both poetry and fiction, and is the mother of four children.
The Countess of Lincoln, Clinton wrote the most popular parenting book of the 1600s, The Countess of Lincoln’s Nursery, and was the mother of 18 children. Interestingly, she was an early advocate for breastfeeding in a time when it was more common for upper-class parents to employ a wet nurse.
Trimmer wrote dozens of books, mostly for children, and was the first reviewer to take children’s literature seriously in her popular periodical The Guardian of Education. She was the mother of 12 children.
Emma Caroline Wood
Wood wrote over a dozen popular novels and was a successful illustrator as well. She was the mother of 13 children, several of whom also became writers.
Baer is the three-time New York Times bestselling author of three popular poetry volumes and the mother of four children.
Mary Elizabeth Braddon
A very popular Victorian novelist, Braddon wrote over 80 books, the best known of which was Lady Audley’s Secret. She was the mother of six children.
A popular Scottish novelist and historical writer, Oliphant was the mother of six children.
You might be familiar with the excellent BBC period drama North and South, adapted from one of Gaskell’s novels. Gaskell wrote poetry, biographies, and short stories, as well as many successful novels. She was the mother of five children.