Susanna Wesley (1669-1742) was a role model for generations of British woman

Susanna Annesley (1669-1742), mother of John Wesley, was a role model for British women

A surprise comment from some women who read my book is, “Margaret!   We had the same mother!” What we seem to have in common is not that we have the same DNA, but that our mothers were British. They wonder, as I do, why their mother never talked about herself, and never talked to them about their selves. “What were our mothers thinking?” they ask.

Susanna Annesley was so conscientious  (a trait of the mothers we’re talking about) she set down her ideas about child raising so she could be a good example for all women. In this excerpt from A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void it was 1955 and I lived in a student residence at the University of Toronto that bore her name:

“In my senior year, I was elected president of Annesley Hall, the girls’ residence a.k.a. the Bastion of Virginity. This home to sixty Victoria College co-eds was named after John Wesley’s mother, Susanna Annesley, who set the Methodist pattern for raising children. She considered obedience the basis for all other virtues, since children must learn from their parents until old enough to form their own judgments. They must clean up their plates, speak softly to the servants and be honest, knowing that forgiveness was at hand. She taught her eight children the alphabet on their fifth birthdays, although two of the girls took one-and-one-half days to master it. They learned to pray and read the Bible, and each evening she spent an hour with one child alone. She paid particular attention to John, God’s special child who had been saved from a fire in the rectory at the age of six. He grew up to be called ‘the most influential Englishman since Shakespeare.’”

It was not a warm relationship between the egos of mother and child but a strict training in obedience, humility, appreciation, honesty, redemption, literacy, Biblical mythology and worth. My mother lived from 1900 to 1990 and was still dedicated enough to the Methodist pattern to try to instill these virtues. Traumatized by  World War I, she particularly emphasized security, based on trust in God. It took six years of research before I could understand her, celebrate our love and take real joy in having had her as my mother.

What do you think? Were these ideas horrendous or sound? Too cold and radical?

In later years John Wesley said,  “My mother was the source from which I derived the guiding principles of my life.” But maybe he would envy his contemporary, Benjamin West, who said, “One kiss from my mother made me a painter.”

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