Legendary Widow Role Model

Licoricia of Winchester

She has real resonance for today. She was a woman in a man’s world, an ethnic minority at a time of great racism and prejudice and persecution. – From Simon Sebag Montefiore, Historian
— Licoricia of Winchester

Licoricia of Winchester, our September 2023 Legendary Widow Role Model, was a Jewish moneylender and wealthy banker who counted royalty among those who borrowed from her. She rose from obscurity to become the most successful female financier in early 13th century England.

Moneylending was the quickest way to wealth for the Jewish population in 13th century England. But antisemitic kings tolerated them only for their tax payments. One biographer compares these taxes to extortion of Jewish people, and draws a parallel to later centuries when profits from enslaved people were used to construct England’s institutions.

The life of Licoricia includes a scandal when her future husband petitioned the church and the government for a divorce from his then-wife in order to marry Licoricia. And her story, though not typical, can be a window into the life of Jewish families in Medieval England, through extensive records that point to the eventual expulsion of Jews from the country.

Licoricia first appears in records in 1234 as a young widow with four children. Her financing activities are documented from the early 1230s. She was one of approximately 1% of the Jewish population working at the highest level of financial dealing.

In 1242 Licoricia married her second husband, David of Oxford. Upon David’s death in 1244, Licoricia was imprisoned in the Tower of London as surety for royal tax collection on David’s estate. The tax on her family was so extensive that it was nearly enough to pay for construction of a chapel at Westminster Abbey.

Over the next 30 years, Licoricia became a highly influential businesswoman, traveling extensively as she managed her assets. Her clients were spread throughout southern and southwestern England and included other Jewish people, local landowners, and small farmers, as well as King Henry III and his wife Queen Eleanor of Provence, members of the aristocracy, and the Church.

Twice-widowed, with four children, Licoricia was successful in a medieval English world that penalized her gender and religion. She was well-known in her city and throughout the international Jewish community, and her business dealings are easily researched because of her unusual name.

In early 1277, Licoricia was found dead inside her home on Jewry Street, likely the victim of a botched robbery attempt. Three men were indicted for her murder, but none was convicted, and the case was never solved.

In February 2022, more than 700 years after her unsolved murder, King Charles (then Prince Charles) unveiled a six-foot tall statue commemorating Licoricia and her son Asher near her former home in the city of Winchester in Hampshire, England.

Recent biographies and websites have celebrated Licoricia’s courage and resilience as well as her business acumen and financial success as “the richest woman in England.”

Learn more about: Licoricia of Winchester
No Swan So Fine, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Joyce Carol Oates

One writes to memorialize, and to bring to life again that which has been lost.
— Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates, our August 2023 Legendary Widow Role Model, is an educator and award-winning author who has written poetry, plays, criticism, nonfiction, 11 novellas, thousands of short stories, and more than 60 novels.

Over the course of her career, Oates has received hundreds of writing, literary, and lifetime achievement nominations, awards, prizes, and medals. Five of her works have been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Born in Lockport, New York in 1938, Oates began writing at the age of 14, ultimately publishing her first book in 1963. She was the first in her family to graduate from high school. She attended Syracuse University in New York, graduating as valedictorian in 1960 with a B.A. She received her M.A. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Oates met Raymond J. Smith at the University of Wisconsin–Madison; they married in 1961. Smith became a professor of 18th-century literature and, later, an editor and publisher. Oates founded the Canadian literary magazine The Ontario Review in 1974 in partnership with Smith. In 1980, Oates and Smith founded Ontario Review Books, an independent publishing house. Oates has described their relationship as very collaborative and imaginative, a marriage of like minds.

After 47 years of marriage, Smith died of complications from pneumonia on February 18, 2008. In 2011, Oates published A Widow’s Story, a memoir about her extreme distress in the months following Smith’s death and her attempt to understand life without the partnership that sustained her for nearly five decades.

After 6 months of near-suicidal grieving for Smith, Oates met Charles Gross, a professor at Princeton. In early 2009, Oates and Gross were married. On April 13, 2019, Oates shared that Gross had died at the age of 83. In 2021, Oates dedicated her novel Breathe to Gross.

Since 2016, Oates has been a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, where she teaches short fiction.

Learn more about: Joyce Carol Oates
SpokaneFocus, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Iris Apfel

Life is a celebration! There is definitely no road map. Embrace its glamour. Enjoy its mystery. Be open to the unexpected.
— Iris Apfel

Our July 2023 Legendary Widow Role Model, Iris Barrel Apfel, is a dynamic American businesswoman in the worlds of fashion, textiles, and interior design. Born in 1921 in Queens, New York, Iris celebrated her 101st birthday in August 2022.

After studying art education at the University of Wisconsin, Iris returned to New York where she wrote for Women’s Wear Daily. In 1948, Iris married Carl Apfel. In 1950, they launched the textile firm Old World Weavers, specializing in fabric reproductions from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Iris and Carl ran the firm together until they retired in 1992.

Iris and Carl traveled the world in search of textiles, and during this time Iris collected non-Western, artisanal clothes. In 2005 The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art staged Rara Avis (Rare Bird), an exhibit of her clothing and accessories.

During her career, Iris participated in a variety of design restoration projects, including working with the White House over nine U.S. presidential administrations.

In 2011, at the age of 90, Iris became a visiting professor in the Division of Textiles and Apparel at the University of Texas at Austin, and collaborated on a collection with MAC Cosmetics. In 2013, Iris was listed as one of the “Best-Dressed over 50” by The Guardian.

She stars in the documentary “Iris,” which premiered at the New York Film Festival in 2014. The movie highlights her colorful outfits, mixing high couture with thrift store chic and whimsical accessories such as beaded slippers or her signature oversized black frames glasses.

Carl Apfel died on August 1, 2015, at age 100. The couple had been married 67 years. In her biography Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon, published in 2018, Iris noted that she and Carl had a wonderful relationship, and that the long time they had together sometimes felt like a century, sometimes like a nanosecond.

In 2016, Iris performed in a television commercial for French car manufacturer Citroën and was the face of Australian clothing brand Blue Illusion. That same year, she was awarded the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (WED) Pioneer Award for her work in fashion.

In 2018, Mattel created an Iris Apfel Barbie doll, making her the oldest person to ever have a Barbie created in her image. In 2019, at the age of 97, Iris signed a modeling contract with global agency IMG.

Today, at almost 102 years of age, Iris continues to consult and lecture about style and other fashion topics.

Learn more about: Iris Apfel
MiamiFilmFestival, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Una Vincenzo, Lady Troubridge

[Una Vincenzo was a] deeply consequential figure in 20th-century LGBTQIA+ history. – The Harry Ransom Center
— Una Vincenzo, Lady Troubridge

Our June 2023 Legendary Widow Role Model is Una Vincenzo, a British sculptor and translator born Margot Elena Gertrude Taylor in 1887. Nicknamed Una by her family when she was a child, she chose the middle name Vincenzo herself, after her Italian relatives.

Una was brought up in London in an upper middle-class family and was a pupil at the Royal College of Art. She set up a sculpture studio after graduation, but when her father died in 1907 she married Ernest Troubridge, having few options for financial support.

Una and Ernest had one daughter, Andrea. Ernest rose to the rank of admiral during the First World War, and Una gained the title “Lady Troubridge” when he was knighted in June 1919, though by that time they had separated.

Una was well-educated and fluent in several languages. A successful translator, she introduced the French writer Colette to English readers. She was a devoted admirer of the Italian-Russian operatic bass Nicola Rossi-Lemeni and followed his career all over the world. She later became a close friend to both Rossi-Lemeni and his wife, the soprano Virginia Zeani, and was godmother to their young son.

In 1915, Lady Troubridge met and fell in love with author and poet Radclyffe Hall, the partner of her cousin Mabel Batten. Batten died in 1916, and Troubridge and Hall moved in together the following year. They both identified as “inverts,” a term used by turn-of-the-century sexologists that classified same-sex attraction as a form of gender variance.

Hall, who often went by the name John, published the novel The Well of Loneliness in 1928; it was subsequently banned in England for its description of lesbianism. The book, along with manuscripts, photographs, and diaries from Troubridge and Hall, is part of a collection of more than 61,000 items digitized by the University of Texas at Austin to offer insight into the two LGBTQIA+ pioneers and the impact of censorship on gender identity.

The couple remained together until Hall died of cancer in 1943. Single for the remaining 20 years of her life, Troubridge is the author of 1945 biography The Life and Death of Radclyffe Hall. She passed away in Rome in 1963 at age 76.

Painting: Una, Lady Troubridge by Romaine Brooks, 1924


Florence Finch

I feel very humble because my activities in the war effort were trivial compared with those of the people who gave their lives for their country.
— Florence Finch

Florence Ebersole Smith Finch, born October 11, 1915, was a Filipino-American member of the World War II resistance against the Japanese occupation of the Philippines.

After graduating high school, Finch went to work for the U.S. Army in Manila. While there, she met her first husband, an American sailor named Charles Smith. They married in August 1941. Charles was killed in action in the Philippines in 1942.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Finch disguised her American connections and was given a job at a Japanese-controlled company. Working closely with the Philippine Resistance Movement, she was able to divert supplies to the resistance and assist in facilitating acts of sabotage against the Japanese occupation forces.

In October 1944, Finch was discovered to be working with the resistance. Arrested and tortured, she never talked. She was sentenced to three years of hard labor in a prison outside Manila.

When Finch was liberated by American forces on February 10, 1945, she weighed just 80 pounds. In May 1945, not wishing to remain in her native country, she moved to Buffalo, New York, where she joined the U.S. Coast Guard Women’s Reserve to, as she noted, “avenge the death of my husband.”

In September 1945, Finch became the first, and only, woman in the Coast Guard to be awarded the Asiatic-Pacific campaign ribbon authorized by President Truman.

While visiting friends in late 1945, Florence met a handsome Army sergeant, Bob Finch, who was soon discharged. Florence completed her Coast Guard service in May 1946. Bob and Florence married in October 1946.

In 1947, Finch was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the U.S. It recognizes those individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” She was also awarded the Asiatic–Pacific Campaign Ribbon, the first woman to be so decorated.

Florence and Bob began their family with a daughter, soon adding a son. Happy and challenged in their work and family, they moved to Ithaca, NY. Life dramatically changed in 1968 when Bob died of a heart attack at age 53.

Florence raised her children and worked as a secretary at Cornell University until 1981, when she retired at age 65.

In 1995, the Coast Guard named a building on Sand Island in Hawaii in her honor, and in 2019, the Coast Guard announced its intention to name their Fast Response Cutter (FRC 57) for “Seaman First Class Florence Finch.”

Florence Finch died at age 101 on December 8, 2016, in Ithaca, New York and was buried with full military honors in April 2017.

Learn more about: Florence Finch
Photo credit: U.S. Coast Guard, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Dr. Edith Eger

We don’t get to choose what happens to us, but we do get to choose how we respond to our experience.
— Dr. Edith Eger

Our April 2023 Legendary Widow Role Model is Dr. Edith Eger, an eminent psychologist specializing in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Her experiences as a Holocaust survivor have helped her treat patients and allow them to escape the prisons of their own minds to find freedom and life fulfillment.

Edith was 16 when the Nazis transported her Hungarian Jewish family to Auschwitz. Her parents were sent to the gas chamber by Joseph Mengele. Edith and her sister were transferred to the Mauthausen and Gunskirchen camps in Austria. Conditions in Gunskirchen were so bad that Edith had to eat grass to survive.

American troops liberated the camps in 1945, and the sisters recovered in an American field hospital where Edith met her future husband, Béla (Albert) Eger, also a Holocaust survivor. Béla had joined the partisans during the war. In 1949, after threats from communists, Edith and Béla fled to the United States with their first child. The couple went on to have two more children. Béla passed away in 1993.

In 1978, Dr. Eger received her PhD in Clinical Psychology. She combines her clinical knowledge and her own experiences with trauma to help others. Choosing to forgive her captors and find joy in her life every day, she has counseled veterans suffering from PTSD, women who were abused, and many others who learn that they too, can choose to forgive, find resilience, and move forward.

In 2017 Dr. Eger wrote a memoir, The Choice: Embrace the Possible, which weaves her personal story with case studies from her work as a psychologist. Her patients’ stories show how people can choose to find freedom, regardless of circumstance.

In The Gift: Twelve Lessons to Save Your Life, published in 2020, Dr. Eger offers practical, uplifting advice about how to recognize and stop destructive, self-sabotaging patterns to find greater life fulfillment.

In September 2022, Edith Eger turned 95. Her message remains important and powerful: “Though I could have remained a permanent victim — scarred by what was beyond my control — I made the choice to heal. Early on, I realized that true freedom can only be found by forgiving, letting go, and moving on.”

Learn more about: Dr. Edith Eger


Helena Znaniecki Lopata

Studying widowhood is not easy. People become widowed in several ways, and there are numerous influences on the consequences of this process.
— Helena Znaniecki Lopata

Sociologist, educator, and author Helena Znaniecki Lopata was most renowned for her research on women homemakers, receiving acclaim for her 1971 book Occupation: Housewife. When she was later challenged to write about aging, her research led to two groundbreaking books, Widowhood in an American City (1973) and Women as Widows: Support Systems (1979).

Born October 1, 1925, in Poznan, Poland, Helena and her American-born mother fled to the United States when Germany invaded. After graduating high school, Helena received a PhD in sociology from the University of Chicago and was a professor at Loyola University in Chicago until her retirement in 1997.

In 1946, after marrying business consultant Richard Lopata, she moved to suburbia to be a housewife and new mother. She said her mother advised her to “study where you are,” so she studied the housewives she met and based Occupation: Housewife on that research.

Role theory dominated Helena’s research, approaching the study of widowhood in terms of role loss – the ending of stable patterns of interactions and shared activity. She linked role loss and identity change, and examined the personal resources used by women in adapting to widowhood. Her final book, Current Widowhood: Myths and Realities, was written two years after her own widowhood. She acknowledged the importance of widowhood research in helping to eliminate the stereotype of the limited, suffering, and dependent widow, noting that the real image of widowhood is much more complicated and varied.

In 1994, Helena’s husband of 50 years passed away. When asked which aspects of her own widowhood had most surprised her, she said, “the extent and breadth of the emotions and sentiments in the process.”

During her career, Helena was elected to the presidencies of several organizations, published 20 books and numerous articles, and received many awards and honors.

Helena died in Wisconsin at age 77 on February 12, 2003. 

Learn more about: Helena Znaniecki Lopata


Tembi Locke

I wanted her to know that love can come in many forms. Sometimes it can look like letting go, but it can also look like never letting go. That one day she might have to love someone in ways the world wasn’t ready for. That reaching for that kind of love would bring with it struggle, but in the end, it could be grander than her wildest imaginings.
— Tembi Locke

Our February 2023 Legendary Widow Role Model, Tembekile “Tembi” Locke, was born in 1970 in Houston, Texas. An actress and writer, her first professional acting experience was in 1990 on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” where she played a love interest for Will Smith’s character.

Tembi is well-known from numerous TV shows, including “Castle,” “NCIS,” “Never Have I Ever,” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” However, the popular Netflix limited series “From Scratch” isn’t a forum for her acting. Instead, it’s her memoir — an adaptation of the story of her love for her late husband Rosario “Saro” Gullo, adapted by producer Reese Witherspoon and writer Marguerite MacIntyre.

In 1990, when Tembi was 20, she moved to Florence, Italy as part of an exchange program from Wesleyan University. There she met Saro, a Sicilian chef, who worked at a restaurant near the National Museum of the Bargello.

Just as in a television drama, they first had to overcome obstacles, such as his traditional Sicilian family’s reluctance to embrace the Black American daughter of civil rights activists. They married in 1995. Tembi became fluent in Italian and acted in Italian television before they moved to the United States together. Their love expanded to include the adoption of a daughter, Zoela, born in 2005.

In 2002, Saro was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that starts in the soft muscle tissue. Tembi cared for Saro for 10 years, until he passed away in 2012.

In her memoir, written years later, Tembi tracks three summers spent in Sicily after Saro’s death. There she finds literal and spiritual nourishment with her mother-in-law and the loving community. This healing journey has now grown to include a web series, “The Kitchen Widow,” where she combines her vegetarian lifestyle with conversations about grief.

Tembi is the sister of bestselling author Attica Locke, who co-wrote the Netflix script for “From Scratch.” She’s a TEDx speaker on resilience and is involved in several social activism programs.

Learn more about: Tembi Locke


Te Ata Thompson Fisher

I decided that my love was the folklore of my people. I simply wanted to give the best performance and in the best light that I could.
— Te Ata Thompson Fisher

Our January 2023 Legendary Widow Role Model was a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and a performer of Native American stories. Her name means “Bearer of the Morning.” In a career spanning more than 60 years, she told Chickasaw legends, myths and chants, and performed rituals in native dress. Te Ata preserved and promoted great affection for old ways, Native Americans, and natural beauty.

Mary Frances Thompson Fisher was born in Emet, Chickasaw Nation on December 3, 1895. She attended Oklahoma College for Women (now the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma) in Chickasaw where Francis Densmore Davis, an active researcher of Native American cultures, recognized her talent for drama. Davis encouraged her to use Native American stories as the basis for her senior performance at college. Soon Mary began using the name Te Ata, reflecting her heritage.

After graduation in 1919, Te Ata developed her own style of storytelling using various Native American sources. She said she wanted to share with others the richness, wisdom, and wonder of her heritage. Her readings, storytelling, and dance were often accompanied by piano music, and she used small drums, rattles, and other traditional instruments.

In 1933 Te Ata performed for the first state dinner given by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1939 she performed again for the Roosevelts at their home in Hyde Park, New York, on the occasion of a state visit by the king and queen of Great Britain.

While working in theater in New York City, Te Ata met Clyde Fisher, a naturalist. The couple was married for 16 years, from 1933 until Fisher’s death in 1949 at age 70. After Clyde’s death, Te Ata continued to travel and perform.

In 1957 Te Ata was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. She was named Woman of the Year by The Ladies Home Journal in 1976, and named Oklahoma’s Official State Treasure in 1987. In 1990, she was inducted into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame.

Te Ata died at age 99 in Oklahoma City on October 26, 1995. Her influence on the appreciation of native traditions, mentoring, and the art of storytelling is her enduring legacy.

Learn more about: Te Ata Thompson Fisher


Mary Magdalene

I was one way, and now, I’m completely different. And the thing that happened in between...was Him. - Mary Magdalene’s character in ‘The Chosen’
— Mary Magdalene

Our December 2022 Legendary Widow Role Model is Mary Magdalene, a woman of great virtue who dedicated her life’s treasures towards a mission and purpose.

According to the Bible, Mary of Magdala (her hometown, a prosperous fishing village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel) was one of the earliest followers of Jesus of Nazareth. She traveled with him, witnessed his crucifixion, and was one of the first people to learn of his resurrection.

Research at an archeological site in Magdala suggests that Mary Magdalene may have been a wealthy widow whose money funded a synagogue for followers of Jesus Christ.

There is no reference to Mary Magdalene being a sinner in any of the New Testament gospels in the Bible. The Gospel of Luke, however, refers to 7 demons being cast out of her body (Luke 8:2), which has been interpreted as the darkness of grief and the mental and physical anguish she was experiencing.

In the Gospels, Luke writes of her as one of the first women who took care of Jesus with her own resources. This reinforces the possibility that she was wealthy and free to do as she wished, choosing to support the Christian movement with her power and influence.

In 2017, Pope Francis declared Mary Magdalene as an “apostle of the new and greatest hope.” In some Christian traditions, Mary Magdalene is known as the “apostle to the apostles.”

Mary Magdalene is considered to be a saint by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran denominations.

In 2016, Pope Francis signed a decree marking July 22 as Mary Magdalene’s feast day alongside the other apostles.

Learn more about: Mary Magdalene
Photo: Engraving and etching by Domenico Cunego, circa 1745 –1803. Guido Reni, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.


MWC Legacy Award is given to one extraordinary person annually who goes above and beyond in serving to empower widows and their families around the world. They are of the highest excellence who possess the highest levels of virtue, nobility, humbleness, compassion, fortitude and the epitome of heroic leadership.
2022 Recipient

Heather Ibrahim-Leathers

Founder, Global Fund for Widows
2021 Recipient

Lord Raj Loomba

Founder, Loomba Foundation
2020 Recipient

Margaret Owen

President & Founder, Widows for Peace through Democracy
2019 Recipient

Roseline Orwa

Founder, Rona Foundation