Missed chance to honor a rebel

188546 f260I realize that it is Father's Day. Still, I think that one of the most interesting stories that the mainstream press missed -- or seriously, seriously underplayed -- during the past few days was the death of a truly revolutionary mother. When you try to judge the importance of a person's life in terms of news impact, you have to stop and think about the number of people that this person's life touched and the degree to which their achievement actually affected some kind of substantial, important issue.

With that in mind, consider the life and impact of Edwina Froehlich, whose trailblazing work with the La Lache League helped restore breastfeeding as a lifestyle option for women living in mainstream America. The impact on the health of young children? Almost off the charts. It is amazing to think that there was actually a time when medical professionals all but forced women not to breastfeed their children, believing that super-duper, scientist-approved formulas were better than, well, what God or random, purposeless mutations had created.

I watched to see who would cover this story and the answer is: Not many people. The Chicago Tribune had a report, which is logical since this was, in part, a local story.

Edwina Froehlich, whose suspicions of the medical establishment were stoked by what her older sister went through in childbirth, was one of seven suburban woman who started La Leche League in 1956 to support women interested in breast-feeding.

Mrs. Froehlich, 93, died Sunday, June 8, at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights of complications from a stroke suffered two weeks earlier. In October 1956, Mrs. Froehlich was pregnant with her third son when she joined six other women from Franklin Park in the living room of Mary White's home to talk about breast-feeding. ...

At the time, many doctors were promoting infant formula as superior to mother's milk. Mrs. Froehlich, who breast-fed all three of her children, and her cohorts felt otherwise and didn't think they were getting straight information from their doctors.

"We all felt a mother should listen to her body, her nature," Mrs. Froehlich said in a 1996 Tribune interview. "We could see clearly that if you trusted your inner self, you could do something amazing."

How controversial was this? The story notes that mainstream newspapers would not run articles that contained the word "breast," so the group used "leche" -- Spanish for "milk" -- in its name to veer around the facts of the matter.

In the truest sense of the word, these women were rebels.

So why did they do it? There were reasons linked to events in her family and it is also clear that Froehlich and her co-conspirators believed that what they were teaching was good for women and their children.

But there is one other factor that the story barely mentions.

Mrs. Froehlich was born Edwina Hearn in the Bronx and came to Chicago to attend Mundelein College. A devout Catholic, she worked with the Catholic Family Movement and was national executive director for the Young Christian Workers before marrying John Froehlich in 1948.

Do you think this Catholic activism had anything to do with her then radical beliefs about parenting and, well, what might be called "natural law"? Perhaps.

Millions of people have been affected by this movement. That's a story and lots of newspapers missed it. Totally.

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