Flora Hommel, 87: life as a labor of love

My mother, Flora Hommel, died on May 15, 2015, at the age of 87.

If the name Lamaze means “painless childbirth” to you, it is because Flora brought the method home to Detroit, the region and (along with Marjorie Karmel and Elisabeth Bing in New York) to the U.S., starting in 1958. Amazingly, Ms. Bing at age 100 died on the same day.

In addition to being the founder of the Detroit-based Childbirth Without Pain Education Association (CWPEA), Flora’s work touched on so many areas … health, women, city politics, world politics. She was a civil rights activist alongside George Crockett, Ernie Goodman, Dr. Charles Wright; proud to have translated for Paul Robeson in France; a fighter for women’s rights and equality alongside Erma Henderson, Claudia Morcom, and many others; demonstrated against the French war in Indochina while in Paris and the U.S. war against Vietnam back home. She served as a city public health commissioner and fought for universal health care; served on the national board of Gray Panthers, and more. [Editor’s note: She was also a long-time reader and supporter of the People’s World and its predecessors.]

Many years challenged by Alzheimer’s, Flora Hommel died comfortably at the Lakeshore Elmwood nursing facility on East Grand Blvd in Detroit, surrounded by an incredibly loving staff.

Her passing is noteworthy to thousands of people in Michigan and beyond … including the more than 18,000 women who prepared for their childbirth experience with her help and the thousand babies whose births she attended. [Editor’s note: Among them is People’s World co-editor Susan Webb, who still uses, to relieve stress,  the breathing techniques she learned in Flora’s childbirth classes.]

More than three years ago, Susan Brohman published a comprehensive biography in the journal of Michigan Jewish History, with the apt title “A Labor of Love.” Flora was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994. Her papers and the history of CWPEA are now available at the archives of Wayne State University. All of this information is available online and the links are below.

As a final act of generosity, Flora donated her body to the Wayne State Medical School where she continues to be in good hands.

I invite you to celebrate Flora’s life and labor of love on Thursday, July 30, from 5 PM to 7 PM at the Reuther Library, Wayne State University Archives, in Detroit.

I am so glad to learn that Congressman John Conyers has changed his plans in order to attend. Flora worked with him for years-on-end, from marching against police brutality to supporting passage of a universal health care single-payer law.

To further her legacy to painless childbirth, social change and activism, the WSU Archives will continue to welcome financial contributions in her memory. This will help disseminate her work and the magnificent archives of Childbirth Without Pain Education Association, now housed there, steps away from where Flora got her nursing degree.

Walter P. Reuther Library
Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs
Wayne State University
5401 Cass Ave.
Detroit MI 48202

Music and songs were also a big part of her life and gave her great joy during her magnificent decline. She was so proud of my recordings and concerts (attending the last one at Elmwood on April 16). Contributions in her memory can also be made to DePaul University Community Music Division earmarked for SongShop (the workshop I have led there since 2003):

DePaul School of Music
Community Music Division
804 W. Belden
Chicago IL 60614

On a more personal note:

Flora was a great fighter to the end and I couldn’t be more proud of how she lived her life at the Elmwood nursing home in Detroit, engaged with everyone there to the very last days after a 13-year history of Alzheimer’s.

I am not too sad. Although I already missed her for many years, the essence of Flora was alive and well, “messing in everyone’s business” at the nursing home, keeping the staff on its toes, and making people happy to be there with her.

If you have key documents related to her work in any sphere, please contact Louis Jones and Aimee Ergas at the Reuther Library (address above).

Flora is survived also by my husband Cappy Kidd, her niece Lauren Brondstatter, nephews Glenn and Michael Suhd, and thousands of mothers and their babies who came into the world joyfully and painlessly.

To all my friends and hers, thank you for being in her life and mine. Be well and keep up the good fight.

Photo: Flora Hommel, left, with her daughter Claudia. Courtesy Claudia Hommel