Women’s History Month is drawing to a close. We spent the last few weeks celebrating the achievements of our fellow ladies around the globe. However, if you pay attention you may notice that most successful women being celebrated seem…young. We live in a culture that’s obsessed with youth, which makes it difficult for a woman who makes strides later in life to get her due. This is a disservice to us all. Around the world, millions of women found their best success while friends were retiring, and many reached true greatness in their fifties, sixties and beyond.
Below are five women that have changed the world for the better after they reached the midpoint in their lives. They refused to believe that their best years were behind them, and because of that each of them went on to achieve great things. Once you get inspired by their stories, there’s no limit to what you might do too.
1. Julia Child
Despite what you might think, this internationally famous French cook didn’t spend her childhood in Pasadena, CA perfecting recipes. Instead, she started her professional career as a copywriter. It wasn’t until World War II that she moved to Paris with her foreign service husband. With an new-found appreciation for French food, at the age of 36, Julia Childs enrolled in the Le Cordon Bleu cooking school and with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle opened a cooking school. By age 49, Child had written the revolutionary book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a cookbook that made French cooking accessible to Americans for the first time. After unprecedented success, Child was given her own cooking show that was syndicated throughout Britain and the United States. Despite her late start in the profession, at age 88, Child received the highest honor in French cooking, the Legion d’Honneur, for her successful career.
“In my generation, except for a few people who’d gone into banking or nursing or something like that, middle-class women didn’t have careers. You were to marry and have children and be a nice mother. You didn’t go out and do anything. I found that I got restless.” —Julia Child
2. Susan Boyle
Anyone who’s seen the 2009 video of Susan Boyle competing on Britain’s Got Talent knows what an impression she made. At the age of 48, Susan, having struggled with Aspergers, had never pursued her dream of professional singing, and few people in the studio audience expected to be impressed. Unexpectedly, Boyle’s show-stopping performance of Les Miserables “I Dreamed a Dream” brought millions of viewers to tears, and Boyle soon launched a music career that landed her the largest ever sales debut for a female artist, leading her to break global records of album sales when she was in her fifties.
“To anyone who has a dream, I say follow that dream. You’re never too old. It is never too late.”
— Susan Boyle
3. Grandma Moses
One of the biggest names in American Folk Art didn’t even take up painting seriously until her mid-70s. Embroidery and needlework was how Anna Mary Robertson Moses filled her time until arthritis made it too difficult to continue, causing her to pick up a paintbrush instead. She began by selling her painting at county fairs, and they were soon selected for a Museum of Modern Art exhibit by the art collector Louis Caldor. Over the next 25 years, Grandma Moses completed over 1,500 paintings and sold many of them for thousands of dollars each.
“I have written my life in small sketches, a little today, a little yesterday, as I have thought of it, as I remember all the things from childhood on through the years, good ones and unpleasant ones, that is how they come out and that is how we have to take them.” —Grandma Moses
4. Laura Ingalls Wilder
Despite the enduring popularity of her autobiographical novels on children’s bookshelves, Laura Ingalls Wilder spent the first part of her life working with her husband on their farm, raising their daughter Rose, and struggling to make ends meet. At the age of 45, Wilder began supplementing their income by writing a column for a local publication. Later, having become an accomplished writer, she was encouraged by Rose, who had also become a writer, to share her childhood stories with the world. In 1932, when she was 64, her first autobiographical novel, Little House in the Big Woods, was published. For the next decade, with her daughter’s help, she chronicled her life in the form of a series of nine novels. The books gave readers a glimpse of homesteading life in 19th century America, and were enormously successful, making an income which supported her and her husband well in their later years. Her delightful tales have inspired young readers to dream of adventures ever since.
“I wanted children now to understand more about the beginnings of things, to know what is behind the things they see—what it is that made America as they know it.”
5. Dr. Ruth Westheimer
Known as a pivotal voice of reason on her weekly talk show about sex education, Dr. Ruth Westheimer didn’t find her true calling in life until she was 52. Though she had previously worked for Planned Parenthood, it wasn’t until she gave a talk to New York broadcasters about the need for sexual education that she was given the opportunity to produce Sexually Speaking, a talk show that dealt with then-taboo sexual topics and drew in over 250,000 listeners every week. Her career has since expanded into TV shows, books, advice columns, and a private practice. She has received numerous awards for her work.
“Our way is not soft grass, it’s a mountain path with lots of rocks. But it goes upward, forward, toward the sun.” —Dr. Ruth Westheimer
When it comes to female role models, these five women prove that age isn’t any reason to slow down. Each of them found their best success after they turned 45, and their stories are far from unique. So take heart when you feel discouraged; your best work may still be ahead of you.