Senator Elizabeth Warren has often mentioned on the campaign trail that she spent her childhood in central Oklahoma.
Her parents, Donald Jones Herring and Pauline Reed, were both Oklahoma natives. Elizabeth was their fourth child and only daughter.
Sen. Warren explained on her campaign website that she “grew up on the ragged edge of the middle class.” The family struggled through financial difficulties after her father suffered a heart attack when Warren was a child. The medical emergency prompted her mother to seek a minimum wage job in order to prevent the family from losing their house.
Here’s what you need to know about Senator Warren’s parents.
1. Donald Jones Herring Served In the Army During WWII & Worked as a Maintenance Man
Donald Jones Herring was born on November 5, 1911, to Grant and Ethel Herring. He was raised in the small town of Wetumka, which is located about 85 miles east of Oklahoma City.
Herring loved airplanes, his daughter explained in a 2018 Facebook book. Sen. Warren said that she “grew up hearing about how he was barely out of high school when he rebuilt a two-passenger, open-cockpit airplane and taught himself to fly above the prairies of eastern Oklahoma. I always pictured him landing and taking off in vast wheat fields, a tiny plane in an immense blue sky.”
Herring served during World War II, according to his obituary. He was a flight instructor for the U.S Army. Warren said her father wanted to be a fighter pilot, but was told he was too old for that role.
After the war, Herring dreamed of becoming a commercial pilot. But, as Warren explained, her father was again told that he was not young enough.
Herring found jobs in maintenance and as a salesman. He repaired cars, did home repairs and worked as a janitor. Senator Warren included on her campaign website that her father also “sold fencing and carpeting.”
Herring passed away on December 3, 1997, in Oklahoma City. He was 86 years old.
2. Elizabeth Warren’s Mother, Pauline Reed, Was From Eastern Oklahoma & the Stories of Native American Ancestry Came From Her Side of the Family
The issue over whether Elizabeth Warren had Native American ancestry came from her mother’s side of the family. Pauline Louise Reed Herring was born on February 14, 1912, in Muskogee. The city is located in eastern Oklahoma about 50 miles southeast of Tulsa.
In a campaign video published on September 1, 2018 (embedded above), Senator Warren and other family members explained that the Reeds’ ancestry was part of family lore. Warren and her brothers were told that they had relatives who had been part Cherokee and part Delaware. (Senator Warren’s now-infamous DNA test showed that she had a Native American relative multiple generations back and that the vast majority of her ancestry was European).
Pauline Reed Herring passed away on July 18, 1995, at the age of 83.
3. Pauline Reed & Donald Herring Were Teenage Sweethearts & Eloped
Senator Warren has described her parents as teenage sweethearts. She said that the Herring family did not approve of the relationship. That led Donald and Pauline to elope when they were 20 and 19, respectively.
Senator Warren shared in an Instagram post that her mother always loved the fact that her birthday was on Valentine’s Day. Herring used to celebrate each year by buying Pauline a heart-shaped box of chocolates.
Warren wrote, “I still have a box of valentines that he gave her all those years ago. I loved my mother’s special connection to Valentine’s Day, too. When I was a little girl, I bought some heart-shaped pans at the dime store. It became a family tradition: every year, I baked my mother a heart-shaped cake. Even though Mother is gone now, I still have my heart-shaped pans. Last night, I baked a heart-shaped cake, and opened up the box filled with old valentines from my daddy. It’s how I remember her.”
Donald and Pauline had four children. Elizabeth was the youngest. Her older brothers are Don Reed, John Hayne, and David Lee.
4. Warren’s Father Suffered a Heart Attack When She Was a Child & Her Mother Went to Work at Sears to Support the Family
Senator Elizabeth Warren explained on her campaign website that her family struggled financially when she was a child. When she was 12, her father suffered a heart attack. He was forced to stop working while he recovered.
Sen. Warren’s mother, Pauline, had been a stay-at-home mother raising Elizabeth and her three older brothers before Donald’s heart attack. After selling the family vehicle, a station wagon, Pauline got a minimum wage job at Sears. The job enabled the family to stay in their home.
Sen. Warren explained in a Facebook post that her mother used to put on the same dress she wore to weddings and funerals to go to her job. “She squeezed into that dress, put on her lipstick and high heels, blew her nose and wiped her eyes, and walked to the Sears Roebuck down the street. At 50 years old, she got her first job outside the home answering the phones and taking catalog orders. My mother’s minimum wage job at Sears saved our home, and it saved our family. When my mother put on that dress and walked out the front door, she taught me that mothers do whatever it takes to fight back.”
5. Pauline Herring Taught Bible School at the Methodist Church the Family Attended in Norman, Oklahoma
Elizabeth Warren and her family were members of the McFarlin Methodist Church in Norman, Oklahoma.
In a video shared on social media, she explained that her mother taught Bible school at the church. She and her brothers also attended Sunday school there.
Sen. Warre joked in the video that it was during her time in the church choir that she learned she could not sing. She said that her mother, Pauline, reassured her that everyone has different talents, but that singing was not one of hers.