Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Divas

She was the most popular woman in America. No, she did not win American Idol and her voice never made it on The Voice. Unlike Kesha, Madonna, Beyoncé, and Rihanna, she never garnered "one-name notoriety." But she was famous. Her boss, the media mogul S.S. McClure, said "You are today, the most famous woman in America." Not that it mattered to her . . .

Ida Tarbell was a Lincoln biographer and hard-hitting journalist. She had a razor-sharp mind, a ferocious work ethic, and an ability to communicate with her pen. She was called, "a Joan of Arc among moderns" and "The New Woman" of her times.  At her death, The New York Times tagged her "the dean of women authors in this country."

Tarbell was popular before instant celebrities eclipsed instant coffee. She didn't need YouTube, iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or the hashtag #goida. She had something else working in her favor: character. Doris Kearns Goodwin provides a masterful sketch of this woman who boldly took on John D. Rockefeller and his monopoly that was Standard Oil.

Ida M Tarbell was affectionately dubbed "I-dare-m." In her office, she proudly displayed a framed note from [popular American humorist] Finley Peter Dunn: "Idarem – She's a lady but she has the punch." No one, Baker said of Tarbell, lived "so warmly in the hearts of her friends." Never had he known "a finer human spirit," "so generous, so modest, so full of kindness, so able, so gallant – and yet with such good sense and humor."

Reading about Tarbell (who died seventy years ago), took me back to 1978. That was the year Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings covered the Ed & Patsy Bruce tune, Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys. It's classic country, Jennings and Nelson alternatively sharing wistful reminiscences of the ever-roaming Cowboy all the while urging mammas everywhere to let their babies be "doctors and lawyers and such."

I am feeling those Nelson and Jennings pangs. Shannan and I have six granddaughters. What I see of the diva set and the way young girls fawn after them makes me want to write my own song: Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Divas. Don't let them chase fame and fortune and stuff. Let 'em be doctors and lawyers and such.

I am not decrying music as a God-honoring venture. If a child can sing -- let her sing and honor God with her voice. It just feels like we are neglecting one of the ways we love God -- with our minds. Additionally, God commends those Ida-like qualities of diligent disciplined thought. He also exhorts us to work hard and to make knowledge useful, two other sterling attributes of Tarbell.

  • You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  Matthew 22:37
  • In all toil there is profit. Proverbs 14:23
  • The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. Proverbs 15:2
  • The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools. Proverbs 15:7
  • The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly. Proverbs 15:14

There is a way out of the diva dilemma. Don't settle for entertainment. Instead, we can do what Ida's father did --  seek knowledge ourselves and give our children books.


  1. "Today you are the most famous ..." from S.S. McClure to Tarbell, April 6, 1903, quoted in The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, And The Golden Age Of Journalism, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. New York: Simon and Schuster. 2013. Page 339.
  2. "She was called a Joan ..." from Outlook, October 1904 and Logansport [IN] Pharos, July 26, 1904 in The Bully Pulpit, page 339.
  3. "At her death ..." from "Ida M. Tarbell, 86, Dies in Bridgeport" in The New York Times, January 17, 1944.
  4. "Ida M. Tarbell was affectionately dubbed ..." from The Bully Pulpit, pages 358 - 59.