Esther McCabe, America’s Number One War Mother

On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and brought America into the war. Families all over the US saw their boys heeding their country’s call and going into the service. Many large families could boast of three or four or five sons in the military. War mothers even had their own organizations like the American War Mothers and the Blue Star Mothers of America. The woman chosen as the quintessential war mother was a lady named Esther McCabe.

Esther McCabe

Esther McCabe

Esther Scanlan was born in 1889 in a family of eight children in an area called Scanlan’s Hill in Pennsylvania. She studied to be a teacher and received her teacher’s certification from Indiana Normal School (now Indiana University of Pennsylvania). After the birth of her first child in 1909 she decided to leave the work force and focus on raising her family.

By 1933, Esther and her husband, Emmett McCabe had 12 children, 11 of them boys. They lived in a coal mining town called Lilly, close to Scanlan’s Hill. Emmett worked as a United Mine Workers Organizer but was killed that year when he was hit by a train. The death was ruled accidental, but there were rumors that it was foul play. Esther raised her kids alone, receiving help from family and relatives during the Great Depression.

At a War Bond drive in 1943 organized by the Blue Star Mothers of America, Esther gained fame when she amazed the audience by counting off her ten sons in service and where they were stationed around the world. On Mother’s day 1944, another organization named the American War Mothers, selected Esther McCabe as “America’s Number One War Mother”. Esther became a guest speaker on regional and national radio shows and soon afterwards, her eleventh son joined up, making Esther the mother of eleven boys in service. She had eight sons in the Army, two in the Navy and one in the Merchant Marine.

Esther McCabe

Esther McCabe with one of her sons

All of Esther McCabe’s sons returned safely to her at the end of the war. She died in 1971 and still holds the record of America’s Number One War Mother.

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