Legendary Widow Role Model

C.J. Walker

Image of CJ Walker
Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.
— C.J. Walker

Madam Walker (1867-1919) was the first Black female self-made millionaire in America. She made her fortune from her homemade line of hair care products for Black women, invented after suffering from a scalp ailment that resulted in her own hair loss. She promoted her products by traveling throughout the country giving demonstrations, ultimately establishing Madame C.J. Walker Laboratories for manufacturing cosmetics and training sales beauticians.

Madam Walker was born Sarah Breedlove to parents who were enslaved Louisiana sharecroppers. After the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, she became the first member of her family to be born free. She endured many hardships in her life. She was orphaned at 6, married at 14, a mother at age 18 to daughter A’Leila, and widowed at 20 from Moses McWilliams.

Walker was well known for her philanthropic giving and educational scholarships in the Black community, donating large portions of her wealth to the NAACP, National Conference on Lynching, Black YMCA, and other charities.

In 1918, Walker built a mansion she called Villa Lewaro in the Hudson Valley 20 miles from New York City. It was designed by Vertner Tandy, an African American architect. Villa Lewaro was a gathering place for many notable figures of the Harlem Renaissance. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

Madam Walker passed away in 1919, at age 51, at Villa Lewaro.

See her life story in the 2020 Netflix Limited Series “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker” starring Octavia Spencer.

Learn more about: C.J. Walker
IMAGE SOURCE: Scurlock Studio (Washington, D.C.) (photographers). - Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History


Rita Marley

Rita Marley
He saved me from being somebody else. I could have been prime minister, I could have been a prostitute on the streets, but I am what I am and Bob has a lot to do with that.
— Rita Marley

Cuban-born Jamaican singer and widow of Bob Marley, well known for his reggae style music worldwide. Their fame rose with the song ‘No Woman No Cry”. They lived a very colorful life touring that ended with tragedy over a gunman assaulting them in their home and injuring both Rita and Bob, along with their manager. After this, they lived in exile. Although they drifted apart, Rita was his only wife and mother of two of his children. After his death, she converted her former residence in Kingston into the Bob Marley Museum. She is the Founder and Chairperson of the Robert Marley Foundation, Bob Marley Trust and Bob Marley Group of Companies.

She adopted 35 children from Ethiopia and has assisted 200 children in Konkonuru Methodist School in Ghana. She wrote a memoir, ‘No Women No Cry: My Life with Bob Marley.’ In 2019, she received the ‘Iconic Award’ for the I Three band that Bob Marley started by the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association.

Learn more about: Rita Marley
IMAGE SOURCE: ritamarleyfoundation.org/about-mrs-marley/


Betty White

Betty White at the premiere for The Proposal in June 2009
There's no formula. Keep busy with your work and your life. You can't become a professional mourner. It doesn't help you or others. Keep the person in your heart all the time. Replay the good times. Be grateful for the years you had.
— Betty White

Betty White is a master at trying new things. She’s an American actress, comedian, humanitarian, author and advocate for the welfare and health of animals. Her TV career began over 80 years ago, in 1939. She started as a radio personality before transitioning to TV. She’s a TV pioneer and the first woman to exert control in front of and behind the camera.

You know her work from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls and Hot in Cleveland. She’s an iconic staple on Password, Match Game, Hollywood Squares and dubbed the first lady of game shows. You’ve seen her Emmy Award Winning soap opera work on The Bold and Beautiful, Boston Legal, The Carol Burnett Show and Saturday Night Live. She has her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was inducted into the TV Hall of Fame in 1985.

She turns 100 in 2022. She’s been married 3 times and was widowed in 1981 by her husband and TV personality Allen Ludden. When asked by Larry King whether she would remarry, she replied by saying, “Once you’ve had the best, who needs the rest?”

Learn more about: Betty White


Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King at the 30th anniversary of the March on Washington, 1993
Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul.
— Coretta Scott King

Beloved widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the age of 41 with 4 children. Her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, was assassinated and the largest voice for civil rights in the 1960’s. She played a prominent role in the years after her husband’s death when she took on the leadership of the struggle for racial equality herself and became active in the Women’s Movement. All while raising her children. She was a force for good and carried on her late husband’s work and created her own legacy by moving forward and reaching back. She’s a Gandhi Peace Prize winner and her funeral was attended by over 10K people, including four of the five living U.S. Presidents.

Learn more about: Coretta Scott King


Veuve Cliquot

Painting of Madame Clicquot
Let life surprise you.
— Veuve Cliquot

Madame Clicquot (aks Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin) was married to Francois Clicquot, who co-owned a vineyard in the Champagne country of France. 7 years after marriage, Francois fell suddenly ill and died of typhoid at the age of 30 leaving the vineyard to Madame Clicquot who took over her husband’s business, becoming one the first business women in the early 1800’s to run an international business in a world dominated by men. She was the first woman to take over a champagne house and the first champagne producer. At the time, widows were the only women in French society to be free and to be allowed to run their business. The widow Clicquot was successful. Champagne has become a vehicle to celebrate events ever since. She invented the mushroom shaped cork we still use today.

Learn more about: Veuve Cliquot
IMAGE SOURCE: Léon Cogniet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Eleanor Roosevelt

Roosevelt with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
We must look at hard things truthfully.
— Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt is best known for being the First Lady of the United States from 1933-1945. She married Franklin D. Roosevelt and became a widow April 12, 1945. Afterwards, she became the 1st Chair of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women which still exists today (Gina and Carolyn will be attending someday at the United Nations). She also was awarded to be the 1st U.S. Representative to the UN Commission on Human Rights in which she Chaired from 1947 until 1952. In other words, she became an American political figure, diplomat and activist in her own right. Harry S. Truman called her the “First Lady of the World” due to her big heart for the underserved around the world and human rights achievements. Upon her death, she was regarded as “one of the most esteemed women in the world”; The New York Times called her “the object of almost universal respect” in her obituary. In 1999, she was ranked in the top ten of Gallup’s List of Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century. I agree.

Learn more about: Eleanor Roosevelt


Terri Irwin

Terri Irwin speaking to a crowd of people
When your hero dies, everything he stood for does not end. Everything he stood for must continue.
— Terri Irwin

Terri Irwin was married to Steve Irwin from the Crocodile Hunter documentary series and died in a freak stingray accident in 2006. She was a mum of 2 kiddos and afterwards, in full charge of the Australia Zoo. Today, she’s a naturalist, conservationist, author and owner of the Australian Zoo in Beerwah, Queensland. In 2014, She was a Queensland finalist for Australian of the Year.

Learn more about: Terri Irwin


Osa Johnson

Osa with a gibbon in their S-39
I often wear light blue to melt into the African sky, or shades of green and brown to blend into the jungle itself…under no circumstances is vivid red or white permissible. These are the colors not usually seen by Africa’s wild-life and a costume of either would stampede the animals!
— Osa Johnson

Osa Johnson was married to Martin Johnson, an American adventurer and filmmaker. Together they captured the public’s imagination through their films and books of adventure in exotic, faraway lands like East and Central Africa, the South Pacific Islandsnd North Borneo. Their long safaris were where the whole Ralph Lauren look originated. She became widowed when the plane that they were on from Las Vegas to Burbank crashed. Martin died and she survived. She went on to write a book “I Married Adventure” which became the best-selling book of 1940. She continued her work at a time when women were not respected to do so. She created 26 half-hour episodes called The Big Game Hunt. Her continued work to keep the adventures alive turned into the inspiration for Disney’s Lion King movie and Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park and Animal Kingdom Lodge. There is a small museum within the Lodge if you ever go there. Their main museum is in Chanute, Kansas and worth the trip.

Learn more about: Osa Johnson


Julia Child

1978 publicity portrait of Julia Child in her kitchen
Everybody is overreacting. If fear of food continues, it will be the death of gastronomy in the United States. Fortunately, the French don’t suffer from the same hysteria we do. We should enjoy food and have fun. It is one of the simplest and best pleasures in life.
— Julia Child

Everybody is overreacting. If fear of food continues, it will be the death of gastronomy in the United States. Fortunately, the French don’t suffer from the same hysteria we do. We should enjoy food and have fun. It is one of the simplest and best pleasures in life.— Julia ChildJulia Child was an American cooking teacher, author and TV personality. She introduced French cuisine to the American public in 1963. She became widowed in 1994 and lived to be 91. She became a popular TV personality of French inspired cooking well into the 60’s to 90’s. Butter and cream were her favorite ingredients, challenging the critics and nutritionists. Her late husband, Paul Child, designed her kitchen which now stands in the National Museum of American History. Her iconic copper pots and pans are on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in DC. In 2007, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. In 1995, she established the Julia Child Foundation giving grants that supported gastronomy and culinary arts.

Learn more about: Julia Child


MWC Legendary 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.
2020 Recipient

Margaret Owen

President & Founder, Widows for Peace through Democracy
2019 Recipient

Roseline Orwa

Founder, Rona Foundation