More and more, women enjoy success later in life, and we’re happy to celebrate this cultural shift! So we’ve rounded up examples of powerhouse older women. These ladies achieved success against the odds. They started or changed careers in midlife, reinvented themselves while raising children. All while undeterred by society’s expectations, family responsibilities or inexperience. Let these seven famous older women inspire you to believe, age is, in fact, just a number.
1. Joy Behar, 78, Comedian and TV Host
Joy Behar started her career as an English teacher, but school administrators didn’t care for her outspoken nature. So she left teaching to pursue a show business career. As she told the New York Times, “I’m still teaching, only now I have a bigger audience.” Behar was in her 40s and a divorced single mother when she decided to try standup comedy.
Behar gained national fame in 1997 when she joined the daytime talk show The View. She went on to co-host the show for twenty years! Since then, she’s guest hosted multiple other talk shows, hosted a few of her own, and become somewhat of a liberal icon—with no signs of slowing down.
2. Vi Alexander Lyles, 69, Mayor of Charlotte, N.C.
After a career with the city of Charlotte, including roles as budget director and assistant city manager, Vi Alexander Lyles retired in 2004. But her career wasn’t over. By 2011, she was community outreach director for the 2012 Democratic National Convention. That year, her husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. As his health declined, he encouraged her to “find something to do” besides looking after him. She ran for city council in 2013 and won mayoral elections in 2015 and 2017.
3. Ernestine Shepherd, 84, Bodybuilder
At age 56, Ernestine Shepherd went shopping for swimsuits with her sister and decided it was time to lose weight. Shepherd, who had never exercised or played sports, started working out, beginning with walking and aerobics.
At 71, Shepherd hired a personal trainer. Seven months later, she competed in and won her first bodybuilding show. Formerly named the oldest competitive female bodybuilder in the world, Shepherd no longer competes. Instead, she leads senior fitness classes and runs marathons—nine to-date! In 2020, she flexed her muscles in a cameo in Beyonce’s Black is King music video.
4. Julie Aigner Clark, 56, Founder, Baby Einstein Co.
In 1996, Julie Aigner Clark, a former teacher and stay-at-home mother, created the popular brand, Baby Einstein. The idea came to fruition when she couldn’t find age-appropriate toys to introduce her daughter to music, language and the arts. She filmed the first video in her basement with her husband and funded the business with $15,000 from her own savings. Baby Einstein took off and eventually was purchased by Disney in 2001.
Since then, Clark started another company, The Safe Side, which teaches children how to navigate dangerous scenarios. All proceeds from the organization benefit The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Even more amazingly, Clark beat cancer not once but twice! She wrote a book about the process; You Are the Best Medicine. Clark also donated all profits from that project to cancer research initiatives.
5. Viola Davis, 55, Actress and Producer
At an age when some actresses find their careers winding down, Viola Davis hit her stride. She was 46 when she appeared in The Help, a breakout film role that earned a Screen Actors Guild Award. Three years later, she portrayed Annalise Keating in the successful television drama How to Get Away with Murder.
She won an Oscar for her role as Denzel Washington’s beleaguered wife in the 2016 film Fences. A philanthropist and activist, Davis supports causes such as social justice and eliminating hunger.
6. Martha Stewart, 79, Businesswoman, Writer, TV Personality
When you speak about famous older women who defined late-in-life success, you must mention Martha Stewart. As the head of a successful catering business, Martha Stewart wrote her first book, Entertaining, at age 41. That led to numerous other books, articles and television appearances. By 1997, she consolidated her business interests, including a magazine and weekly television show, into Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.
While Stewart served a six-month sentence for securities fraud in 2004, she didn’t let that blip slow her down. She continued her involvement with Martha Stewart Living expanding into home décor products, housewares and other projects. Recently, Stewart explored more light-hearted projects, like a TV show with long-time friend and rapper, Snoop Dog. She’s also become an age-positive icon, recently causing a stir with her confident and amazing Instagram selfies.
7. Suzanne Watson, 58, Psychiatrist
It took 25 years for Suzanne Watson to become a physician. She took a long detour through motherhood, the ministry and tragedy. Watson began medical school but withdrew when she became pregnant with her second child. She was a stay-at-home mother for years, then became an Episcopal priest. Tragically, her husband committed suicide, and she was left with four children and a large mortgage. She sold her house and wondered how she would make it.
When she turned 50, Watson mentioned her regret about medical school to her son. He suggested she go for it or stop talking about it. So went for it, she did! Watson studied for the MCAT in between church services. While Watson explained that med school was interesting (most of her fellow students thought she was the professor), having the experience of being a mom translated into a superpower. Not deterred by her age, Watson used her strong spiritual faith and grit gained from trauma to power her through to become a psychiatrist.
Use these amazing, famous older women to get inspired and take action!
Just like these strong and inspirational famous older women, know that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams. You could also totally change course with a new dream and life journey!
Begin with baby steps: do research, find a class, join a group, choose a mentor. Now is the perfect time.