As my life has progressed along its timeline, my idea of an "inspirational woman" has evolved and changed considerably. When I was younger, I admired women for their looks, their talent, their business savvy - women who I wished to emulate in my career.
Now that I have moved on into my "second blooming", I find that I am far less impressed by those elements, and find myself admiring women most who have a certain quality to their character - an ability to continually grow and evolve, to try new things, to stay intellectually curious, and to stay present and relevant. So many of us get stuck, either by their families or husbands or uninspiring jobs, or by difficulty and disappointment, and become isolated and insular. And when I see women who were able to accept the difficulties in their lives and learn and grow and move forward, I say "yes, that's what I want to be!"
Even though Eleanor was born to extreme privilege, she was the definition of the "poor little rich girl". Both her mother and brother died of diphtheria when she was eight, and her depressive, alcoholic father died by jumping out a window when she was ten. She was not a particularly pretty girl, and almost all of the men in her life ignored or abandoned her. But she took what she was given and moved on with it. At 15 she wrote "no matter how plain a woman may be if truth and loyalty are stamped upon her face all will be attracted to her." It was a time when a girl's prospects were dependent on making a good marriage, so she married her cousin Franklin, who certainly had great prospects. Despite having six children, their marriage was never a passionate one. Franklin had numerous, long-term affairs, leaving Eleanor deeply hurt and publicly humiliated. Franklin didn't want to get a divorce because it would mean the end of his political career. So Eleanor was faced with a choice - divorce him and make a better life for herself, or stay with him and make a better life for the country. She chose the latter, and their marriage evolved into a strong political partnership. All of her life she was an outspoken advocate for civil rights, women's rights and education. She became one of the most involved and active first ladies of all time, and after Franklin's death, she continued to stay politically active for the rest of her life. At age 61, she became a delegate to the United Nations, and had been named the chairperson of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women when she passed away in 1962 at age 78.
I want to be like her!
About 20 years ago, Jennifer used to date one of Jimmy's best friends, and we spent quite a bit of time with them and at her house. Though she was a good deal older than me, we got along well, and enjoyed cooking dinner parties together. Jennifer had been a pretty successful actress, who you might remember from Soap in the '70s, but when I knew her, she was just celebrating her 50th birthday, and had fallen into that black hole for actresses when no one wants to hire them. (Oh my, Gretchen, isn't that where you are right now? Mmm...yes.) She hadn't worked in a couple of years and was panicking. She had a teenage son to take care of and a mortgage. What was she going to do? So she started writing. She took a screenwriting class and focused all of her energy on making this new career work for her. I remember her telling me that she realized that few people in Hollywood would hire a middle-aged woman as a writer, but maybe she could carve out a niche for herself writing "women's" films She started focusing on writing what I think of as "Lifetime movies". Sure enough, she started selling scripts. Cut to: Over the last 10 years, Jennifer has become hugely successful as the writer/producer of Nip/Tuck as well as American Horror Story. Both incredibly popular and decidedly NOT "women's" shows. She has become something of an anomaly - a woman in her 60s who writes some of the sexiest, bloodiest and most cutting-edge shows on television.
I want to be like her!
I've spoken about the way in which my mother reinvented herself from an orphaned farmgirl with a troubled youth into the string-of-pearls-Coach-bag-wearing, church-going wife of an attorney who she came to be. Mama knew the kind of lady she wanted to be, and made it happen. But after I left home, she found herself with little to do, and a husband 15 years older than her and in declining health. No doubt she was lonely. So she threw herself into charity work with a passion. She had always been a "doer" - Girl Scout troop leader, room mother, event organizer. But at this point in her life, she kicked it into a higher gear. She started with working at a soup kitchen - she spent several days a week feeding the homeless. She went on to volunteering at the St. Vincent de Paul Society Thrift Store - a job she adored. She loved sorting through all the donations, and made good friends with the Guatemalan ladies who worked with her in the back of the store. I wonder if those ladies knew that her childhood had probably been much like theirs. She became extremely active in the Ladies of Charity, a Catholic women's organization, and eventually was named to the International Board. I'm telling you, that woman HELPED people. One of the last things I did with her before she died was to Secret Santa an entire family - we bought food and presents and delivered it all to their house. She never stopped contributing, and never stopped "doing".
I want to be like her!
Which women inspire you most? Please share your spin on Inspirational Women in the Linky below, and don't forget to check out the other contributors. Maybe they will inspire you as well!
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