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Seven Voices, One Dream

Patty Spanjer
Dalton GA USA
Report from 2001 LLLI Conference
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 5, September-October 2001, p. 173

LLLI's Founders shared their thoughts on the beginning of what would become La Leche League and cheerfully reminisced about their experiences in the Conference session "Seven Voices, One Dream: Getting to Know the Founders Inside and Out."

Some of the Founders brought items for "Show and Tell." Mary Ann Kerwin, who, according to the other Founders, saves everything and can always find anything needed immediately, brought an original copy of THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING.

She also brought a copy of the 1963 Reader's Digest magazine article that gave La Leche League national attention: Karen Pryor's "They Teach the Joys of Breastfeeding." She had the first LLL NEWS from May/June 1958. (LLL NEWS was the predecessor of NEW BEGINNINGS.)

Marian Tompson brought a friend and the friend's daughter, who is now ACL of Illinois. She also brought some iron nipple shields. According to an article in the 1839 medical journal, Lancet, these would prevent sore nipples.

Mary White brought a grocery bag with an LLL ad on it from about 15 years ago. When she held it up, Mary Swisher, a Leader from Michigan, hopped up to look at it, proclaiming, "That is from my Group!" Mary White also brought her "traveling to meetings nightgown," which had been made for her by an LLL Leader.

These women described how the idea of "mothering throug breastfeeding" came to be their guiding principle. In the early years, there was a lot of discussion about what was different about the information they offered. They finally realized, with the help of Dr. Herbert Ratner, that what they were offering was information about a way of mothering.

"We owe much to Dr. Herbert Ratner," said Mary White, as all of the Founders nodded in agreement.

They explained that they do have seven voices and that those voices don't and didn't always agree on how things should be done. But they have always had a special bond with each other, and a willingness to work together.

When asked how they handled these disagreements, Edwina Froehlich responded that they talked about their differences, and let their emotions show, sometimes over the course of several meetings. Then they voted to make final decisions. It was their one dream of helping mothers breastfeed that inspired them to resolve their disagreements and continue the organization they founded. According to Froehlich, "There was no way to lose sight of our mission, because mothers kept calling."

When asked what caused the greatest discussions, they laughed. They had lively discussions about solids, loving guidance, and childbirth. Mother and baby togetherness is even now generating a lot of discussion.

One questioner asked how La Leche League helped each grow as a person. Marian Tompson said she had always been very shy. Being President of LLL for 25 years "brought into my life the most wonderful people who nourished me and helped me grow." Viola Lennon learned the real value of children, and Edwina Froehlich received encouragement and understanding in her role as a mother.

When asked what they are doing now, the Founders enthusiastically shared that their families keep them busy yet their commitment to La Leche League remains strong.

Betty Wagner Spandikow lives in Tennessee and enjoys gardening, sewing, and reading. She and her husband, Paul, also have a condo in Illinois.

Mary White spends her time "going from christenings to weddings," she said. She and husband Dr. Greg White, are selling their large family home and moving into a condo.

Edwina Froehlich doesn't make long-term commitments any more. She wants to be available to her family and friends and "enjoy life."

Vi Lennon works with the Alumnae Association and enjoys her children and grandchildren all of whom live in the Chicago area.

Marian Tompson has begun a new nonprofit organization called Another Look at Breastfeeding and HIV/AIDS. A trip to South Africa sparked her interest in the topic.

Mary Ann Kerwin recently retired from active participation in the LLLI Board of Directors. She was the last Founder to do so. She also retired from her law practice. This year she has had several family members temporarily living with her and her husband. She hopes to discover the secret to relaxing.

To learn more about the lives of these fascinating women and how they changed the world, be sure to read SEVEN VOICES, ONE DREAM by Mary Ann Cahill.

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