The Queen of My Self

I have found my favorite model of the Queen in the life of a remarkable woman known as Peace Pilgrim who devoted almost thirty years of her life to walking and talking for peace.

Born Mildred Lisette Norman in 1908 on a small poultry farm in Egg Harbor City, New Jersey. She was the oldest of three children in a loving, close-knit, extended family of nine.

The Norman ancestors had fled Germany for America in the mid-19th century to escape conflict and militarism. Her parents instilled a strong peace ethic in their children, encouraging discussion of social and political issues, and pursuit of moral questions. The family considered themselves “free-thinkers” who sought answers through reason and logic.

After her high school graduation, Mildred Norman took secretarial jobs. As a young adult, she led an active social life and at the age of 25 she eloped with Stanley Ryder, a businessman. They were very mismatched and the marriage was fractious from the start. Stanley wanted a traditional domestic life and children; Mildred did not. He liked to drink, Mildred did not. Stanley believed in war, Mildred did not. With each passing year, the couple grew further apart.

Ironically, during the Great Depression Mildred learned that making money was easy, and that spending it foolishly was completely meaningless. She knew that this was not her destiny, but did not know what was.

She did know, however, that she was dissatisfied with her life. She was increasingly uncomfortable about having so much while others were starving. In 1938 she spent an entire night walking through the woods praying for guidance to discover her calling, and she underwent a profound spiritual experience awakening,

I felt a complete willingness, without any reservations, to give my life – to dedicate my life – to service. “If you can use me for anything, please use me!” I prayed to God. “Here I am-take all of me; use me as you will. I withhold nothing.” Then a great peace came over me. I experienced a complete willingness without reservations whatsoever, to give my life to something beyond my self.

Thus began a 15-year period of intense inner transformation. She said, “I tell you it’s a point of no return. After that, you can never go back to completely self-centered living.”

For the entire decade of the 1940s, Mildred searched diligently for the service that she felt she was called to undertake. First she worked with senior citizens and those with emotional problems. Then she volunteered for peace organizations: the Quaker American Friends Service Committee, the Philadelphia Fellowship Commission and the United Nations Council of Philadelphia and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

As she entered her midlife, Mildred began to radically simplify her life. She decided to get rid of unnecessary possessions and frivolous activities. She dissolved her unhappy marriage. She became a vegetarian, disciplined herself to live on ten dollars a week, and pared down her wardrobe to two dresses. Her goal was to “experience and learn to appreciate the great freedom of simplicity.”

She described this period as a time when she was engaged in a great struggle between ego and conscience, or between her “lower, self-centered nature,” and the “higher, God-centered nature.” She strived to overcome selfishness in order to attain inner peace and spiritual maturity.

Mildred joined the Endurance Hiking Club and took wilderness treks to increase her physical strength and to gain experience in simple living. In 1952 she became to the first woman to walk the entire 2,050-mile length of the Appalachian Trail in one season.

Life on the trail agreed with her. Hiking reinforced her belief in simplicity and confirmed her ability to live “in harmony at need level” for long periods of time, in all weather conditions. She managed to live outdoors for five months equipped with only a pair of slacks, one shirt one sweater, a blanket and two plastic sheets.

Her menu, morning and evening, was two cups of uncooked oatmeal soaked in water and flavored with brown sugar; at noon, she had two cups of double strength dried milk, plus any berries, nuts or greens that she found in the woods.

Her experience convinced her that material possessions were simply a burden, and that to achieve a daily state of grace, she would need to maintain that simplicity after she got off the trail.

Tomorrow: Peace Pilgrim – Part 2


Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to






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