Elizabeth Warren's Mother, Pauline Herring, Had a Profound Impact on Warren's Life and Work

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Drew Angerer Getty Images

Presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren has made her fight for working people an important part of her platform for 2020. She has spoken honestly about how her family's history—particularly the role that her mother, Pauline Herring (maiden name Reed)—played in her own understanding of her life and the values that she now brings to her identity as a politician. Herring passed away in 1995, but her legacy lives on in Warren, including on the campaign trail.

Growing up, according to Warren, the family lived on the "ragged edge of the middle class." She added, "We didn’t have much money—but like millions of other families, we got by." Warren was one of four kids, and when her father had a heart attack, her mom got a minimum wage job to ensure the family didn't lose their home:

One day, I walked into my mother’s room and found her crying. She said, “We are not going to lose this house.” She wiped her eyes, blew her nose, and pulled on her best dress—the one she wore to funerals and graduations. At 50 years old, she walked down the street and got her first paying job: answering the phones at Sears. That minimum wage job saved our home, and my mother saved our family.

Warren says she learned in that moment how hard mothers work to fight back.

Herring has Cherokee lineage, making Warren 1/32 Native American—this caused controversy for Warren recently, with many questioning whether she should have self-identified as such when applying to Harvard. Warren doesn't often speak about her own heritage, but when she does she says she has fond recollections: "I have lived in a family that has talked about Native Americans, talked about tribes since I had been a little girl."

Every year, Warren makes a Valentine's Day cake for her mother, who was born on February 14. "From the time they were teenage sweethearts, my daddy bought my mother a heart-shaped box of chocolates every year," she explained. "It became a family tradition: Every year, I baked my mother a heart-shaped cake. Even though Mother is gone now, I still have my heart-shaped pans. Last night, I baked a heart-shaped cake, and opened up the box filled with old valentines from my daddy. It’s how I remember her."

Warren's connection to her mother extends beyond the personal, though. Her quest for universal health care ties to her family as well. When Herring died suddenly, "The autopsy showed that she had advanced heart disease—never diagnosed, and never treated. No one had any idea." At the time that Trump was working to repeal Obamacare, she explained, "Fighting for the Affordable Care Act seems like the right way to celebrate the people you love."


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