Legendary Widow Role Model

Lady Bird Johnson

Where flowers bloom, so does hope.
— Lady Bird Johnson

Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson, born December 22, 1912, was an American businesswoman, investor, and First Lady of the United States from 1963 to 1969, having also served as Second Lady from 1961 to 1963.

Lady Bird met Lyndon B. Johnson in Austin, Texas when he was a 26-year-old Congressional aide with political aspirations. They married in 1934. When Lyndon decided to run for Congress from Austin’s 10th district, she bankrolled his congressional campaign. They settled in Washington, D.C., after Lyndon was elected to Congress. Lady Bird ran Lyndon’s congressional office after he enlisted in the Navy during World War II.

During World War II, Lady Bird purchased KTBC, an Austin radio station, and went on to purchase several additional radio stations and a TV station. She served as president of the LBJ Holding Company and remained involved with the organization until she was in her 80s. She was the first president’s wife to have become a millionaire in her own right before her husband was elected to office.

Lyndon B. Johnson was elected Vice President of the United States in 1960 as running mate to John F. Kennedy. On November 22, 1963, the Johnsons were accompanying the Kennedys in Dallas when President Kennedy was assassinated. Lyndon was sworn in as president on Air Force One two hours after Kennedy died.

As First Lady, Lady Bird broke new ground by interacting directly with Congress and employing her own press secretary and chief of staff. Her tenure marked the beginning of the White House hiring East Wing employees to work specifically on the First Lady’s projects. She launched a capital beautification project and was an advocate for beautifying the nation’s cities and highways; the Highway Beautification Act was informally known as “Lady Bird’s Bill.” 

Former President Johnson died of a heart attack in 1973, four years after leaving office. After his death, Lady Bird took time to travel and spend more time with her two daughters. She remained in the public eye, honoring her husband and other presidents.

From 1971 to 1978, Lady Bird served on the board of regents for the University of Texas System. In 1982, she and actress Helen Hayes founded the National Wildflower Research Center west of Austin, Texas. She served on the National Park Service Advisory Board and was the first woman to serve on National Geographic Society’s Board of Trustees. She held honorary degrees from numerous universities. Lady Bird received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1988, the highest honors bestowed upon a United States civilian. In 2013, Lady Bird was posthumously awarded the prestigious Rachel Carson Award.

Lady Bird Johnson died at home from natural causes on July 11, 2007 at the age of 94.

Learn more about: Lady Bird Johnson


Mary Oliver

Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.
— Mary Oliver

Mary Jane Oliver was an American poet born September 10, 1935 in Maple Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. As a child, she spent a great deal of time outside and in the woods where she enjoyed taking solitary walks.

Oliver began writing poetry and prose at the age of 14. Her poems are filled with imagery from her daily walks in Ohio and, later, her adopted home of New England, where she moved in the 1960s.

Influenced by Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver’s poetry is known for its straightforward language and moving celebrations of the natural world. Oliver, who valued her privacy, gave very few interviews, saying she preferred for her writing to speak for itself.

On a visit in the late 1950s to the town of Austerlitz in the Czech Republic, Oliver met photographer Molly Malone Cook, who would become her partner for more than 40 years. They made their home primarily in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where they lived until Cook’s death in 2005.

A prolific writer of both poetry and prose, Oliver routinely published a new book every one to two years, beginning in 1963 up to the time of her death. Some of her best-known poems include Wild Geese, The Swan, Don’t Hesitate, The Summer Day, and When Death Comes.

Mary Jane Oliver was an American poet born September 10, 1935 in Maple Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. As a child, she spent a great deal of time outside and in the woods where she enjoyed taking solitary walks.

Oliver began writing poetry and prose at the age of 14. Her poems are filled with imagery from her daily walks in Ohio and, later, her adopted home of New England, where she moved in the 1960s.

Influenced by Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver’s poetry is known for its straightforward language and moving celebrations of the natural world. Oliver, who valued her privacy, gave very few interviews, saying she preferred for her writing to speak for itself.

On a visit in the late 1950s to the town of Austerlitz in the Czech Republic, Oliver met photographer Molly Malone Cook, who would become her partner for more than 40 years. They made their home primarily in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where they lived until Cook’s death in 2005.

A prolific writer of both poetry and prose, Oliver routinely published a new book every one to two years, beginning in 1963 up to the time of her death. Some of her best-known poems include Wild Geese, The Swan, Don’t Hesitate, The Summer Day, and When Death Comes.

Oliver is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the 1992 National Book Award for Poetry, and a 2003 honorary membership into Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard University. She held the Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching at Bennington College and was granted numerous Honorary Doctorates, including from Dartmouth College (2007), Tufts University (2008), and Marquette University (2012). Oliver received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, and won the American Academy of Arts & Letters Award and the Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Memorial Prize. Oliver was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2012. After receiving treatment, she was given a clean bill of health. She died at the age of 83 on January 17, 2019 of lymphoma.

Learn more about: Mary Oliver


Jane Goodall

You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.
— Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall, born in 1934 in Hampstead, London, is a primatologist and anthropologist who is considered the world’s foremost authority on chimpanzees. Goodall is best known for her 60+-year study of social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees, undertaken upon her arrival in 1960, at the age of 26, at Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park. There, Goodall witnessed chimpanzees exhibiting unique and individual personalities, along with human-like behaviors such as hugs, kisses, pats on the back, tickling, and even armed conflict — actions considered “human.” Her work challenged existing beliefs and concepts about chimpanzee behavior and diet, ultimately leading to the world’s largest scientific knowledge base about chimpanzees, now serving primatologists around the globe.

Goodall credits her mother with encouraging her to pursue a career in primatology, at that time a male-dominated field. Today, the field is made up almost evenly of women and men, in part due to Goodall’s trailblazing and her encouragement of young women to join the field.

In 1975 Goodall married Derek Bryceson, a member of Tanzania’s parliament and director of the country’s national parks. Bryceson died of cancer in October 1980, leaving Goodall widowed at the age of 46.

Goodall founded the Jane Goodall Institute in 1977 to support the research at Gombe. She has worked extensively on conservation and animal welfare issues and is a global leader in the effort to protect chimpanzees and their habitats. Roots & Shoots, a global conservation and education program for youths, was founded in 1991 when a group of 16 local teenagers met with Goodall on her porch in Tanzania. The program now has more than 10,000 groups in more than 100 countries.

Goodall has served on the board of the Nonhuman Rights Project since its founding in 1996. In April 2002, Goodall was named a UN Messenger of Peace, and she’s an honorary member of the World Future Council. She serves on the advisory council for Save the Chimps in Fort Pierce, Florida, the world’s largest chimpanzee sanctuary outside of Africa.

In 2020, continuing her organization’s work on the environment, Goodall vowed to plant 5 million trees as part of the World Economic Forum’s 1 trillion tree initiative. In February 2021, Jane Goodall and more than 140 scientists called for the EU Commission to abolish caging of farm animals.

In March 2022, in celebration of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, The Lego Group issued a new set, “A Jane Goodall Tribute,” depicting a Jane Goodall minifigure and three chimpanzees in an African forest scene.

Goodall turned 88 years young on April 3, 2022 and continues her passionate advocacy on behalf of chimpanzees and the environment.

Learn more about: Jane Goodall


Queen Elizabeth II

Photo of Queen Elizabeth II
When life seems hard, the courageous do not lie down and accept defeat; instead, they are all the more determined to struggle for a better future.
— Queen Elizabeth II

Elizabeth II (born Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor on April 21, 1926) is Queen of the United Kingdom and 14 other Commonwealth realms. She was born in Mayfair, London, as the first child of the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth).

Queen Elizabeth II suffered the loss of her husband, Philip Mountbatten, Duke of Edinburgh, on April 9, 2021 when he died at the age of 99. Elizabeth is now one of the most well-known widows in the world. She and the Duke were married for more than 73 years, a period in which she came to describe him as her “constant strength and guide.”

Elizabeth was brought up in the public eye, raised from a young age to represent the people of Britain. She and her younger sister Margaret were home schooled under the supervision of their mother and governess, concentrating on history, language, literature, and music. Elizabeth took it upon herself to learn about matters of state that would one day be part of her daily life. She attended lessons at Eton about constitutional history and began broadening her knowledge of European History.

In September 1939, Britain entered the Second World War and Elizabeth began to undertake public duties. In 1943, Elizabeth made her first solo public appearance on a visit to the Grenadier Guards, of which she had been appointed colonel the previous year. In February 1945, she was appointed as an honorary second subaltern in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. She trained as a driver and mechanic and was given the rank of honorary junior commander (female equivalent of captain at the time) five months later.

In November 1947 Elizabeth married Philip Mountbatten, a former prince of Greece and Denmark. They had four children: Charles, Prince of Wales; Anne, Princess Royal; Prince Andrew, Duke of York; and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.

Elizabeth acceded to the throne in 1952, at the age of 25. She is the longest-lived and longest-reigning British monarch, the longest-serving female head of state in world history, the world’s oldest living monarch, the longest-reigning active monarch, and the oldest and longest-serving current head of state.

The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee began on February 6, 2022. It marks 70 years since she acceded to the throne. In her Accession Day message, Elizabeth renewed her commitment to a lifetime of public service, which she originally made in 1947.

Elizabeth is patron of over 600 organizations and charities. The Charities Aid Foundation estimates that she has helped raised over £1.4 billion (US $1.8 billion) for her patronages during her reign. Elizabeth has held many titles and honorary military positions throughout the Commonwealth and has received honors and awards from around the world.

Learn more about: Queen Elizabeth II
Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada via CC BY 2.0.


Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks smiling
People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in. I only knew that, as I was being arrested, it was the very last time that I would ever ride in humiliation of this kind.
— Rosa Parks

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (February 4, 1913–October 24, 2005) was an African-American activist in the U.S. civil rights movement, best known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott. She has been honored by the United States Congress as “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement.”

She married Raymond Parks in 1932 when she was 19 years old. They were married for 45 years, until his death from throat cancer in 1977, when she was 64.

Parks became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation after refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery City Lines bus on December 1, 1955. At the time, Parks was employed as a seamstress at a local department store and was secretary for the Montgomery Chapter of the NAACP. Parks was arrested and charged with a violation of the Montgomery City segregation law. The city ultimately repealed its law requiring segregation on public buses following a 1956 ruling by the United States Supreme Court that it was unconstitutional.

Parks played an important role in raising international awareness about the plight of African Americans and the U.S. civil rights struggle, organizing and collaborating with numerous civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King Jr. and E.D. Nixon. She went on to participate in activism at a national level during the mid-1960s.

In spite of her fame and constant speaking engagements, Parks was not a wealthy woman. She donated most of the money she earned from her speaking engagements to civil rights causes, and lived on her staff salary and her husband’s pension.

After retirement, Parks wrote her autobiography and continued to call for more work to be done in the struggle for civil rights justice. Parks received national recognition, including the NAACP 1979 Spingarn Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and a posthumous statue in the United States Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. After her death in 2005, she was the first woman to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda.

In 1980, at the age of 67 and just 3 years widowed, Parks rededicated herself to civil rights and educational organizations, co-founding the Rosa L. Parks Scholarship Foundation for college-bound high school seniors, to which she donated most of her speaker fees. In February 1987, she co-founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, which offers “Pathways to Freedom” bus tours to introduce people to civil rights and Underground Railroad sites throughout the United States.

Late in life, Parks, along with her mother, moved to an apartment for senior citizens. Parks nursed her mother Leona through the final stages of cancer and geriatric dementia until her death in 1979 at age 92. In 2002, as Parks struggled to support herself, a highly-publicized impending eviction caught the attention of the apartment building’s ownership company. They announced they had forgiven Parks’ back rent and would allow Parks, by then 91 years old, alone, and in extremely poor health, to live rent-free for the remainder of her life. Rosa Parks died of natural causes on October 24, 2005 at age 92, a woman of valor.

Read more about Rosa Parks Day, celebrated in the U.S. states of California and Missouri on her birthday, February 4, and in Ohio, Oregon, and Texas on the day she was arrested, December 1.

Learn more about: Rosa Parks


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


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