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

Presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren has made her fight for working people a big part of her platform for 2020. Her mother passed away in 1995, but her legacy lives on in Warren.

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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:

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."

Katherine J. Igoe

Katherine’s a Boston-based contributor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle—from “Clueless” to Everlane to news about Lizzo. She’s been a freelancer for 11 years and has had roles with Cosmopolitan and Bustle, with bylines in Parents, Seventeen, and elsewhere. It’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.