Legendary Widow Role Model

Harriet Tubman

1860s photo of Harriet Tubman sitting in a chair.
Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.
— Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman (c. March 1822–March 10, 1913) was an American abolitionist and political activist. Born into slavery, Tubman and her brothers, Ben and Henry, escaped on September 17, 1849. Tubman subsequently made some 13 missions to rescue approximately 70 enslaved people, including family and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. During the American Civil War, Tubman served as an armed scout and spy for the Union Army. In her later years, Tubman was an activist in the movement for women’s suffrage.

In 1844, Tubman married her first husband, John. Little is known about him or their time together; he died in 1867. In 1869, Tubman married Nelson Davis. Davis died in 1888 of tuberculosis.

The 1890 Dependent and Disability Pension Act made Tubman eligible for a pension as the widow of Nelson Davis, but it took 5 years of activism on her part for it to be awarded. She was ultimately granted a monthly pension of $5 (equivalent to $250 today) and a lump sum of $500 (an equivalent of $15,500 today) to cover the 5-year delay.

Throughout the late 1800s, Tubman spoke out in favor of women’s voting rights. She talked of her actions during and after the Civil War, and highlighted the sacrifices of women throughout modern history, to illustrate women’s equality to men.

Tubman, a diligent, exemplary example of widow advocacy, fought for women’s rights and widow’s rights at a time when it was not even acknowledged as such. When asked if she believed women ought to have the right to vote, she replied “I suffered enough to believe it.”

Tubman continued to be active in the women’s suffrage movement until illness overtook her. As she’d aged, effects from a childhood head trauma began constantly plaguing her. By 1911, she was so frail that she was admitted into a rest home named in her honor. Surrounded by friends and family members, she died of pneumonia on March 10, 1913, not living to see the passing by the U.S. Congress, in June 1919, of the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote. Tubman was buried with semi-military honors at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York.

In 2021, under the Biden Administration, the United States Treasury Department resumed its effort to add Tubman’s portrait to the front of the $20 bill. We may once again see Tubman make history, as the first African American woman to be featured on U.S. paper currency.

Tubman’s life story has been featured in books, theater, opera, literature, visual arts, and on film and television, including “Harriett” starring actress Cynthia Erivo and the NBC miniseries “A Woman Called Moses” starring Cicely Tyson. Tubman is a key figure in the National Women’s History Museum and is the recipient of numerous monuments, memorials, honors, and commemorations.

Learn more about: Harriet Tubman


Graça Machel

Graça Machel giving a speach
Our lives will only have a meaning if each one of us can confidently say that I was able to bring five, ten, fifteen and twenty women along with me. Do not climb alone.
— Graça Machel

Graça Machel, a Mozambican politician and humanitarian, was born October 17, 1945 in rural Incadine, Gaza Province, Portuguese East Africa (modern-day Mozambique). She’s twice widowed, having been married to Mozambican president Samora Machel from 1975–1986, and South African president Nelson Mandela from 1998–2013. She’s the only woman in modern history to have served as First Lady of two countries, Mozambique and South Africa.

Machel is an international advocate for women’s and children’s rights, having studied at the University of Lisbon in Portugal, where she first became involved in independence issues. In 1997 she was named Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for her humanitarian work. That year she also received the Global Citizen Award of the New England Circle. In 1998, she was one of two winners of the North–South Prize awarded by the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe.

Machel is a member of the Africa Progress Panel (APP), a group of distinguished individuals advocating at the highest levels for equitable and sustainable development in Africa. From 1999 to 2019 she was chancellor of the University of Cape Town. In 2009, she was appointed to the Commonwealth of Nations’ Eminent Persons Group. She was named president of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London in 2012, and in 2016 was named chancellor of the African Leadership University.

In 2007, Machel convened The Elders in Johannesburg, South Africa with Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. The Elders focus on both thematic and geographically-specific subjects. Machel has been particularly involved in The Elders’ work on child marriage, including the founding of “Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage.”

In 2017, Machel was elected an Honorary Fellow of the British Academy, the United Kingdom’s national academy for humanities and social sciences. In 2018, she was awarded by the World Health Organization for her contributions to the health and well-being of women and children.

Machel has received numerous international awards, accolades, honors, and recognition throughout her lifetime for her many contributions to the fields of human rights protection, policy change, sustainable development, and equality for women and girls.

Learn more about: Graça Machel


Cindy McCain

Photo of Cindy McCain smiling
The strength of women and women’s rights around the world are especially important because that affects children and families. And the cascade effect is remarkable.
— Cindy McCain

Cindy McCain is an American businesswoman, philanthropist, humanitarian, and author. Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, Ms. McCain earned an undergraduate degree in Education and a Master’s in Special Education from the University of Southern California. In 1980, she married United States Senator and 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

In 1981, the McCains moved to Arizona. Her husband was elected to the United States Congress in 1982, ultimately being re-elected five additional times. The McCains are parents of three biological children, including television host and commentator Meghan McCain, and one adopted child.

In 1988 Ms. McCain founded a nonprofit organization, the American Voluntary Medical Team, that organized trips for medical personnel to provide emergency medical care to war-torn or disaster-stricken areas. She led 55 of these missions over the next 7 years, each of which were at least two weeks in duration. In 2001 she became involved with Operation Smile, taking part in medical missions to India, Vietnam, and Morocco. Working with another nonprofit organization, she visited operations to remove landmines in Mozambique, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and Angola. During the 2010s, she was a prominent figure in the fight against human trafficking.

In July 2017, Ms. McCain’s husband was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. She issued a public statement saying, “We as a family will face the next hurdle together. One thing I do know is he is the toughest person I know. He is my hero and I love him with all my heart.”

Following her husband’s death in 2018, Ms. McCain has continued to be active in philanthropy, serving on the board of directors of several nonprofit organizations and as co-chair of the Arizona Governor’s Council on human trafficking. As Chairman of the Board of the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University, she oversees the organization’s charter to advance global leadership with a focus on economic opportunity and security, freedom, and human dignity. She is Chairman of her family’s business, Hensley Beverage Company, one of the United States’ largest Anheuser-Busch distributors. She was inducted into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame in 2019. In June 2021, President Joe Biden nominated Ms. McCain to serve as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, with the nomination being confirmed by the United States Senate in October 2021.

Learn more about: Cindy McCain
IMAGE SOURCE: CC BY 3.00 File:Cindy_McCain_in_2018.jpg


Faye Dancer

Photo of Faye Dancer at the plate
I’ll probably be remembered as a crowd favorite, a little crazy. I always had fun.
— Faye Dancer

Our October Legendary Widow Role Model is Faye Dancer. In 1944, Dancer entered the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Players Association (AAGPBL) as a center fielder with the Minneapolis Millerettes, an expansion team with few victories and poor fan support.

By the fall of 1942, many minor league baseball teams had disbanded due to the war, and a committee had been established to develop ideas for attracting fans to the ballpark. The committee recommended a girls’ softball league be established that could be prepared to play in Major League ballparks if too many MLB players left to support the war effort.

In its inaugural season, the Minneapolis Millerettes finished in last place with a 23–36 record for the first half of the season and a 22–36 record in the second, for an overall record of 45 wins and 72 losses.

Despite the team’s poor season, Dancer posted a .274 batting average with 58 runs, along with 48 runs batted in. Her 90 hits included 44 for extra bases and two grand slams.

A tough and free-spirited woman, Dancer was known as the AAGPBL joker, a smoker and a drinker, and an incorrigible rule breaker, chafing in her private life against league structures, although she never allowed her antics to interfere with playing. After her fiancé Johnny was killed in action during World War II, Dancer never truly considered marrying anyone else despite having many boyfriends. Although not technically a legal widow, she was devoted to her fiancé Johnny and planned to marry him when he returned from war.

During the off-season, Dancer worked at the Howard Hughes Aircraft Company as an electronics technician. After the AAGPBL folded in 1954, she worked for a California power generator company and began an electronics business with her former Minneapolis Millerettes teammate and longtime friend Pepper Paire.

Faye died in 2002 at age 77 from complications related to breast cancer surgery. That same year, she was inducted into the National Women’s Baseball Hall of Fame. Her life story was modeled in the movie “A League of Their Own” with actress Madonna playing her.

Learn more about: Faye Dancer


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


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.
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