Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Happy Birthday Harriette!

Today would have been Harriette's 67th Birthday.Maybe you are thinking " So...I didn't know her why are you telling me?........but what Harriette did in her life, impacted all of us.I made a promise to Harriette before she died that I would never let her be forgotten. As time goes by and more and more I realize how much I miss her and how important she was to me, I also realize that I probably would have done that even if she hadn't asked me to.
So for those of you who did not know her, here is her story, and why it matters.
Harriette Grant passed away on June 30, 2002. She had been a nanny for 40 years. You can read her story in the book Like a Second Mother but here is my tribute to her life and her enormous contribution to nannies everywhere.
The following article about Harriette Grant first appeared in the NAN Newsletter in June of 2001. In November of 2001, Harriette was diagnosed with Leukemia and she passed away on June 30, 2002.
A nanny for the ages by Glenda Willm Propst
These are some newspaper headlines from 1961:U.S. Breaks Off Diplomatic Relations With Cuba;John F. Kennedy Inaugurated as President of the U.S. Peace Corps Established by Kennedy;UN General Assembly Condemns Apartheid;‘Freedom Riders’Attacked by White Citizens in Anniston and Birmingham; Bay of Pigs Invasion; Kennedy and Khrushchev Meet in Vienna to Discuss Disarmament; Berlin Wall Constructed; Actor Gary Cooper Dies at Age 60.
These are some popular books from 1961:Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein;Catch-22, by Joseph Heller; andTropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller (the first legal publication in the U.S.).
Some of the popular movies that year were:"West Side Story,""The Hustler," and "Judgment at Nuremberg."And among the most popular songs were:"Love makes the World Go Round,""Moon River,""Where the Boys Are," and "Exodus."How many of you remember any of these events and cultural markers? How many of you were even born in 1961?Well, even if we are among those who were not yet born in 1961, there was an event that in some way affected all our lives that year. This event did not make the headlines, but it changed our lives all the same.
In July, 1961,Harriette Grant began her career as a nanny. At that time there were no newspaper articles about nanny salaries or benefits there were no formal nanny training programs in the United States, there were no nanny support groups, and there were no nanny organizations.Harriette was just 19 when she started taking care of Sylvia Whitman. In the book "Like a Second Mother," Sylvia writes about a very different Harriette from the person we know. Sylvia's "Rat," as she affectionately called her, changed her hair color every week, and their house was the best patrolled in the neighborhood because all the policemen had a crush on Harriette.Harriette was with the Whitman family for nine years, and she maintains a close relationship with Sylvia Whitman, who is now all grown up with a family of her own.In 1970 Harriette moved to Washington, DC, to care for the Brown children, with whom she stayed for 20 years. Even after the children were teenagers, Harriette remained and helped the Browns part time (she took a second part time job with another family in the neighborhood). Harriette was there when one of the Brown children graduated from Princeton University, and when her other "child" graduated from High School. While she was in DC, Harriette began to get serious about solving the problems surrounding the lack of support nannies had.Harriette Grant was one of the founders of the very first nanny support group in the USA. It was called ADCAN - the Association of DC Area Nannies. The group still runs strong today, and prides itself on being the oldest nanny support group in the nation. If you have ever tried to start or run a support group, you will understand what an accomplishment that is.Harriette was also a founding member of International Nanny Association, served on its board of directors, and was the INA's first Nanny of the Year in 1990.She co founded NAN with Glenda Willm Propst and Eva Harkness in 1992.When Harriette moved to New York City in 1999, she became one of the founders of the Professional Nannies of New York.I first met Harriette Grant at the INA conference in Vail, Colorado, in 1988. We were going to be serving on the INA Board together. It did not take long for us to realize that we had the same concerns, the same vision, and the same passion for the nanny profession. After the conference, we burned up the phone lines on a regular basis.We became very good friends, and in 1992, along with Eva Harkness, we founded the National Association of Nannies.
In 1997, when Harriette asked me to run with her for Co-President of NAN, one of my greatest concerns was that it might hurt our friendship. We promised each other not to let that happen. I think we would both admit that at times it was a struggle, but we served as Co-Presidents for four years, and were still on speaking terms. We did not always agree, but we always respected each other and we have always tried to make what was best for NAN our top priority.
NAN benefited from her vision, her professionalism, her steadfastness, her wisdom, and her commitment to the Nanny profession.It's a little overwhelming to think of all the things that have happened in the last 40 years, and of how far the nanny profession has come. I think of all the changes Harriette saw and of all the nannies she encountered on her journey.When I think of Harriette Grant, I think of the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail."
Harriette led the way where there was no path. She blazed a trail for 40 years, .As her torch is passed, we can all learn a valuable lesson from her life, her example, and her dedication to her career.
It is up to each of us to continue the work that Harriette started. We are pioneers of the nanny profession, and it is our job to continue to blaze the trail.
Harriette, you have been our friend, our leader, and our inspiration. We will never forget you and we will work hard to continue your legacy.You leave us with many wonderful memories but a hole in our heart that only you could fill.
Rest in peace dear friend.I miss you every single day.


  1. Happy Birthday to Rat!

    You know how people say you never truly appreciate your parents until you have children yourself? The same holds true for your nanny.

    As I fumble through raising my daughter and son (10 and 8), I sure wish Rat were here to give me advice ... and make me laugh.

    I knew the young Harriette, who let my sister pierce her ears with a needle at the kitchen table and loved Elvis. I never got my chance to take her to Graceland.

    BTW, I am at the start of a long and slow project to write a biography of Harriette, who moved into our house at age 19 to be my nanny and never dreamed she'd be a labor activist. If you'd like to share a memory or comment about Harriette ... or would be willing to let me interview you about Rat, the nannying profession, or any other tangent, please drop me an e-mail at


  2. great glenda, I think it is wonderful how you show your appreciation and remmber your friend each year.