Bette Nesmith Graham, Mommy Bloggers and the NY Times

The NY Times recently published a particularly snarky article on mommy bloggers entitled Honey, Don’t Bother Mommy, I’m Too Busy Building My Brand. While the article made me angry, I don’t think I can manage to express my thoughts as elegantly as Jessica in Don’t Bother Mommy She’s Rabid Right Now, Annie in Does the World see Moms the Same Way the NY Times Does?, Liz in Honey, Don’t Bother Mommy, I’m Writing A Mildly Annoyed Letter to the NY Times, Joanne (aka PunditMom) in An Open Letter to the New York Times About Mom Bloggers, Women Writers, & the Universe, Kelby in Newspaper Bias Against Mom Bloggers, or, my absolute hands down favorite, Cecily in Excuse Me New York Times, Don’t Bother Me. Because You’re Absolutely Fucking Right, I’m Building My Brand.

I see parallels with how the green industry dismisses green moms and even green women. Home based greening is not viewed as very significant by the more traditional green tech group. 

But I don’t really want to talk about that either. What I do want to do is to tell a story.  A story about Bette Nesmith Graham. Ms. Graham wanted to be an artist, but her life took a different path. She dropped out of high school to get married before her fiancee and then husband left for World War II. But, after World War II, Ms. Graham found herself divorced in 1946 with a son to support. She worked as a secretary to support herself and her son.

In those days, Ms. Graham was one of those women – women who worked outside of the home contrary to the stereotype of what women were supposed to do (and, which, we are still apparently supposed to do at least if you read the NY Times article).

But Ms. Graham was frustrated at her job. She was frustrated with the electric typewriters in widespread use after World War II. It was impossible to correct mistakes because of the carbon-film ribbons. Think about it – I can’t imagine having to prepare legal documents without being able to correct mistakes – a typographical error on page 10 of a 20 page document would, well, suck. More than suck.

The story goes that Ms. Graham wanted a way to correct mistakes (as I can well imagine). Just picture it – some jerk of a boss screaming at you because of an unfortunate typo in a document that you can’t correct and just need to start over? Ms. Graham knew that artists painted over their mistakes so she thought that the same could be done with typing. She put some tempera waterbased paint, colored to match the stationery she used, in a bottle and took her watercolor brush to the office. She used this to correct her typing mistakes. Along the next 5 years as she used the correcting fluid (often without her boss noticing), other secretaries saw the new invention and asked for some of the correcting fluid. After the first secretary asked, Ms. Graham found a green bottle at home, wrote “Mistake Out” on a label, and gave it to her friend. She continued to whip up batches in her kitchen for other secretaries.

Ms. Graham was a smart cookie. She got a trademark, got a patent and started the Mistake Out Company (later renamed Liquid Paper) in 1956 from her home. She turned her kitchen into a laboratory, mixing up an improved product with her electric mixer with help from her son’s high school chemistry teacher. Graham’s son, Michael Nesmith (later of The Monkees fame), and his friends filled bottles for her customers.

By 1967, it had grown into a million dollar business. In 1968, she moved into her own plant and corporate headquarters, automated operations, and had 19 employees. That year, she sold one million bottles. Ms. Graham eventually sold the business to Gillette Corp. for $47.5 million.

How is this relevant to the snarky mommy blog article in the NY Times?

Ms. Graham was just a mom. Ms. Graham was even worse than that in those days – she was a divorced working mom. And I’m going to guess she was mocked and dismissed.

Nonetheless. Ms. Graham invented (necessity is the mother of invention) one of the most widely used office products. In her kitchen.

The NY Times may dismiss mommy bloggers. Heck, mainstream media may dismiss mommy bloggers.

By doing so, they ignore a diverse group of very powerful, very passionate, very invested, very active women. We are moms, wives, partners, lovers, sisters, daughters. We are teachers, attorneys, scientists, activists, biologists, secretaries, consultants, flight attendants, police officers, and more. We are passionate about parenting, politics, cooking, the environment, education, music, books, shopping, beauty and more. Women just like Bette Nesmith Graham.

Mock us at your peril. Dismiss us.

But make no mistake about it. There is power in that connection and the conversations. Why else would countless brands want in?

And why would so many of us join in? We blog to share, to connect, to educate, to inform, to rant.

We blog to change the world.

We blog and the world will change. 

So, NY Times, you may not think much of my mommy blog. But, well, that’s your problem.

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  1. Great article, Jennifer.
    The only way the NY Times will get away with their trite observations is if we take it laying down. Which we won’t.

  2. First, thanks so much for the lovely shout out! Really, what I want to say, though, is thank you for sharing this story. I know there have to be many more like them yet mothers get dismissed because, well, we’re mothers. And it’s not even a “you used your uterus” thing — I’m a mom by adoption, and apparently, that makes people think you’ve lost all your professional credentials and work experience, too. 🙁

  3. Brava, Jennifer. That was wonderful.

  4. I love the we blog, we change the world! Right on sister!

  5. Having worked in the music biz (eons before I became a mom), I knew that Michael Nesmith’s mother invented Liquid Paper. And being of a certain age, I used IBM Selectrics every day on the job for my first decade in the working world, and was thankful. I did not know the back story. Thanks for telling it!

  6. Great point Jennifer. Love this post. will tweet!

  7. Thank you for speaking to the true heart & soul of mom bloggers, Jennifer! I’m blown away by Bette Graham’s story & how it mirrors the very essence of mommy blogging. She should be embracing us her sisters instead of belittling us.

    Here’s to the often hidden power of connected women!

  8. Wonderful story, Jennifer. I’m so happy to have discovered your site tonight. Just another way that we powerful woman/mommy bloggers connect… in the wee hours after everyone is tucked in bed.

  9. Great post, especially those last few sentences!

  10. Great article – there is nothing wrong with blogging mama’s! I love reading about other mother’s and their thoughts and perspectives on parenting.

  11. Hi Jennifer! Thank you so much for publishing this article. I started blogging in January 2010 and have absolutely loved it. I’ve followed your tweets for awhile (I can’t remember how I found you), but this is my first time on your website. I can see that you are going to be a wealth of information for me as, I too, want to change the world. I hope to continue learning from you. You rock mama!

  12. Great article. The one thing I’d add is that they NYT must think something of all of us because they gave us an awful lot of space in that article. If we were so inconsequential they would never have devoted that amount of time and attention to us. Sort of a backhand compliment!

  13. Lizliterarius says:

    Reminds me of the saying: “WHATEVER you give a woman, she will make it greater. Give her sperm, she will give you a baby. Give her a house, she will give you a home. Give her groceries, she will give you a meal. Give her a smile and she will give you her heart. She multiplies and enlarges what she is given. So if you give her crap, be ready to recieve a ton of sh*t!”


  1. […] Bette Nesmith Graham, Mommy Bloggers and the NY Times (The Smartmama): Jennifer tells the story of a “mommy” business later sold to a major corporation for $47.5 million.  Can you guess which one? The point being that to dismiss and belittle this “diverse group of very powerful, very passionate, very invested, very active women” would be a huge mistake. […]

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