By guest writer: Margaret Bossen.
I was raised to be an activist. And this photo shows my role model: my mom.
Here she in her white dress in Berlin in 1937. Adolf Hitler is speaking at this event. She is not saluting. Here is her story.
My mom, Emily Wallenfels White, was born in Vienna, Austria to my Grandmother Anne, who was a Romanian Jew living in Vienna. She was an American Citizen - my grandfather was part of the diplomatic corps in Vienna before the war.
Emily and her family lived a very cultured, high-society life in Vienna until 1930, when Hugo was transferred to Berlin. This was during Hitler’s rise to power, and at the cusp of World War II.
The photo above was taken at a gathering in Berlin that celebrated “Americans In Germany” as a propaganda event to "normalize" the relations between the US and Germany. There are many of the Regime's generals in the front row, and every one is saluting the Fuhrer. The Americans (my mother in her white dress, and the US Ambassador William Dodd in the grey suit) are not saluting Hitler.
This event and many other actions before and during the war inspired my mother to be a lifelong peace advocate, activist and protestor.
Once Emily made it to America she made close connections with pacifists, anti-fascist radicals, and peace activists. She studied Philosophy and Psychology at Swarthmore College and it was here that she was introduced to the writings of Gandhi and Emmanuel Kant, and bonded with the Quaker groups that she eagerly joined. She transferred to UCLA, and was deeply committed to the Conscientious Objectors groups and the Quakers. She helped organize campus anti-war gatherings and peaceful protests (this was extremely radical for that era!). She graduated with honors – Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude.
Her activism was always a cornerstone of her life. She continued to pursue her academic goals (Masters degree in Social Psychology from University of Iowa, and then PHD work a Univ of Calif – Berkeley) while still engaging in political activities and rallies.
In her later years she was always engaged in current events. She read the newspaper and watched the news every day. She and her husband Jim attended precinct caucuses, voted in every election and were often motivated to write letters, usually related to activism, or peace issues. They often wrote letters to the editor, to the state senators, and even to the President. Emily often marched with gay and lesbian friends for Pride events, and her involvement with people of all ages, activities, and beliefs is still creating connections to this day.
This activism was part of my daily life growing up in Minneapolis. My parents took all of us to countless rallies, encouraged us to write letters to the editor (I had one published in the paper when I was 7!), and gather for political events such as town hall meetings and marches.
In this current highly charged political climate – it is so natural for me to gather with my friends and get everyone creating signs and formulating our protest plans. Mom still inspires me every day to get out there and fight against fascism, racism, hate, and xenophobia.
My first impressions.
I thought my mother was quite interesting – but very different from everybody else’s mom. My mother had a Master’s degree in Psychology, and she loved to listen to problems and try to help people work through their troubles. Her empathy for others was well known, and deep. She had a European sensibility, and other people gravitated to her. Her accent and manner of speaking were quite unique (she spoke 3 languages – German, French, and English) and her insights and intelligence were evident in her interactions with her counseling clients, and her wide circle of friends. My parents had many gatherings at their home and she was often asked to read poetry or lead the discussions.
She was also rather stylish, in my child’s view of her. Even as she grew older, she always wore red lipstick, and made sure her hair was styled before she left the house.
Me, as a mother.
I recognized that my mother was wonderful at instilling great self-esteem and a positive attitude in all of us. She was intensely creative, well-read, and deeply spiritual. She gave us a tremendous foundation in art and culture, without which I would not be who I am today.
When I had my children, I naturally gravitated toward the same creative, well-read underpinnings. I was particularly obsessed with “creative play” to the point that both kids have pointedly said “Mom – why were all our toys made out of wood?
In a mild form of rebellion, I did find myself straying toward what I perceived as a more “normal” way of raising my kids… I often joke that “I was raised by hippies – which is just two steps away from being raised by wolves!”
Both of my parents tended to be quite enamored with alternative lifestyles: art, poetry, and creativity were held up as the most sought after values – not a bad thing, but it makes it challenging to keep up with the costs of modern life. I often found it funny that my successful career in technology was never as compelling as the other family members’ pursuits of art, writing, and organic farming.
What my mother would tell us now.
My mother lived to be 89 years old and passed away January 2011. In looking at some of her memoirs and writings this quote popped out: “I know that if the world would end tomorrow, I would still continue to plant my apple trees today.”
She would want us all to act and make our voices known. Be like my mom.
Margaret Bossen is a designer, technologist, user experience architect, activist - and mom. She lives in St Paul and has two grown up children. You can connect with her here.