Edwina Froehlich, La Leche Co-Founder, Dies at 93
By Christine Cupaiuolo — June 17, 2008
Edwina Froehlich, who helped found La Leche League to support breast-feeding, died earlier this month at the age of 93.
The organization was founded in the 1950s, when Froehlich and six other women met in Franklin Park, Ill., to share information on how to successfully breastfeed their babies.
“In those days you didn’t mention ‘breast’ in print,” Froehlich once said. “We knew that if we were ever going to get anything in the paper we would have to find a name that wouldn’t actually tell people what our organization was about.”
A pioneer on several fronts of motherhood, she worked for Young Christian Workers, a Roman Catholic lay organization, before marrying John Froehlich when she was in her early 30s. She had her first child a couple of years later, making her comparatively old to have a first child at the time, and she made the controversial decision to forgo giving birth in a hospital in favor of a more natural delivery in her Franklin Park, Ill., home, with an obstetrician attending.
At a time when most pediatricians encouraged formula and bottle-feeding and when there were few scientific studies demonstrating the health benefits of breast milk, Mrs. Froehlich chose to breast-feed all of her babies, said another La Leche founder, Mary White.
“We used to tell the mothers the three main obstacles to successful breast-feeding were doctors, hospitals and social pressure,” Mrs. White said.
As Rachel noted yesterday, some hospitals, particularly in the south, are still engaging in practices that are not considered supportive of breastfeeding …
Update: The Dallas Morning News calls Edwina Froehlich a feminist pioneer in today’s editorial, which also describes regional prejudices against breastfeeding:
Local breastfeeding activists say many Texans think of the breast only in sexual terms, hence the anxiety over public breastfeeding. State law grants the right to breastfeed in public, but it has never been tested in court. And the risk of public humiliation is a powerful incentive to stay closeted.
That must change, and will. Even so, countless women are more free, and their babies better off, because a 1950s suburban mom refused to accept that one of the most natural things in the world is shameful or retrograde. Edwina Froehlich was ahead of her time.
I realize I owe a debt of gratitude to Edwina Froehlich; I am sure my decision to breastfeed my children was based on the education and encouragement she had given to the women of America. How lucky we were that she came along to remind us of how we are able to naturally care for our babies.
I was 22 and an active duty sailor when pregnant with boy #1. Several moms invited me to Le Leche League meetings and what I learned at them changed my life, and completely altered my perception of what child rearing is all about. No doubt, the quality of our family life has been immeasurably improved by the efforts of Le Leche league, and kudos to all of the founding mothers.
While I do appreciate what LLL has done from breastfeeding, I am a bit taken aback by the term “feminist” being used in conjunction with a LLL founder. LLL is very clear in their materials that a woman’s place is at home with her children. While LLL does provide support for working mothers, you could not become a LLL leader if you worked while your children were under the age of 2-3 as recently as 15 years ago. This may have changed, but if it has it is only because the founders have finally started to die off. Make no mistake, LLL is far from a feminist organization.
Yes, La Leche League is a feminist organization! I’m proud to say I was a leader, though that was many years ago. My children are nearly grown and my nursing days are far behind me. I must say I never felt LLL’s belief that mothers and babies need to be together was un-feminist. Nor did staying close to my children make me feel I was missing out on life. It was a wonderful time for me. I had time to intensively mother my children, time to experience the joy of sisterhood with my fellow moms, and time to pursue some of my own interests. I just pursued my interests with my children nearby. I started two businesses — one in my home and one where I brought my children along — during those great days. I also did some very satisfying volunteer work that I would never have time to do today as a very busy working mother with two teens. I am so happy to encourage young moms today who feel torn between their desire to be full-time mothers and their desire to be modern women with full lives. I’m happy to let them know that they can indeed find fulfillment without necessarily taking a fulltime job outside the home. Of course, it’s always the individual mother’s choice whether she wants to stay home or work, something I never once saw LLL deny. I am saddened by Edwina’s death. She was a great, great lady and I personally know my life is better because of the organization she (while a SAHM, yet!) helped found.
Insisting that only the mother can provide care for a child (not even fathers are considered an adequate substitute because their relationship with children is “different”) is far from a feminist position. While LLL does provide assistance to working mothers, it is provided by women who have never worked while breastfeeding since working mothers are not eligible to become leaders.
One woman I know was prevented from becoming a leader because she left her infant in the care of family while attending college classes a maximum of two hours a day. She was told that, by doing this, she was not meeting the LLL standard of constantly being present to meet your child’s needs.
All you have to do is read any of their publications–particularly their flagship book The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding–and you will quickly get a sense of their politics. LLL is an extremely conservative, patriarchy promoting organization.
I’m a huge supporter of breastfeeding, but this country is in desperate need of a non-political breastfeeding organization that doesn’t push a “barefoot and pregnant” agenda.
I must disagree that LLL is patriarchal. I suppose every woman has her own definition of feminism, but my definition does not require that a woman leave her babies to work. If yours does, that’s certainly your right. I just know that I’ve lived my life on my own terms, making my own choices, and in my mind that makes me a feminist. I am proud of my career and all my life’s accomplishments, but of everything I’ve done, I’m happiest that when my two teens were small they were raised by me — in a manner often called attachment parenting. Nobody is forcing anybody else to agree, but it’s non non-feminist, in my opinion, to say that this is the ideal. In fact, one could argue (and I would) that the idea that a woman must leave her children and work in order to be respected and feel fulfilled is itself rather patriarchal.