Significant accomplishments and remarkable behavior are not reserved exclusively for younger populations. Women over fifty, in particular, have historically been victims of unfair stereotypes about their place in society and their capacity to be innovative or productive as their male counterparts. Even today, women in the most developed nations on the planet earn less money than men for performing the same job.
Fortunately, there are many stories of female role models over fifty who have broken gender and age stereotypes, providing inspiration and teaching valuable lessons to all people, not just women over fifty. Following one’s passion and striving to achieve remarkable feats has no expiration date. The accomplishments of the following female role models in their later years serve as a reminder that there is no deadline on greatness.
Anna Mary Robertson Moses
Better known as Grandma Moses, the famous artist from Greenwich, New York, didn’t start painting until the age of 78. Over the course of three decades, Grandma Moses produced well over 1,500 paintings, masterfully recreating rural scenes that resonated with art lovers from around the world.
One of her pieces found a permanent home in the White House and was memorialized on U.S. postage stamps. While she started selling her paintings for just a few dollars each, her most famous piece, Sugaring Off, sold for a staggering $1.2 million in 2006.
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Laura Ingalls Wilder grew up in a time when tending chores around the house and farm was the primary occupation available to women. Growing up in Mid-America in the late nineteenth century, Ingalls Wilder spent most of her years helping out on her husband’s farm. But she also moonlighted as a writer for the St. Louis Star, occasionally submitting articles to the paper.
At the age of 64, this female role model’s daughter convinced her to start writing. Wilder decided to write a fictional series based on her life experience. The Little House children’s book series was born, and the final edition of the series was published when Ingalls Wilder was 76 years old. The series was an inspiration for the hit show, Little House on the Prairie.
When most people think of adventurers, they don’t likely think of women over fifty, less yet a lung cancer survivor in her 70s. But most people aren’t Barbara Hillary. While taking part in various arctic activities, Hillary learned that no African American woman had ever been to the North Pole. She decided that being 75 was no obstacle to achieving that goal and did just that in 2007. Four years later at the age of 79, Hillary made it to the South Pole. She won numerous awards to solidify her status as a preeminent female role model, including the Woman of Courage Award by the National Organization for Women and a Special Citation from the U.S. House of Representatives.
Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Ringenberg became fascinated with aviation as a child when a stunt pilot landed his plane in a field near her family’s farm. Flying was her life well past the age of fifty, and she raced in every Powder Puff Derby between 1957 and 1977. She successfully completed the Round-the-World Air Race at the age of 72 and raced from London to Sydney at the age of 79. The National Aeronautic Association presented her with the Elder Statesman in Aviation Award in 1999.
Born and raised in South-West Africa (now Namibia), Pelton grew up swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. She wanted to learn to swim well as a youth—her natural swimming pool was loaded with sharks. She moved to the United States at the age of 16 and eventually became an elementary school teacher. Her son convinced her to take the next step in becoming a female role model: starting Masters Swimming at the age of 62. She set thirty-four Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA) Masters World Records, 18 long-course and 16 short-course throughout her career, competing into her 80s. The Los Angeles Times wrote in 1988 that she “trained like an animal for the World Championships.”
A college education is a big achievement. For some, it is another step along a well-defined path in life. For others, it is an unobtainable dream, an opportunity that remains out of reach for a lifetime. Nola Ochs became a female role model for all women over fifty when she became the oldest person ever to receive her bachelor’s degree at the age of 95.
Ochs completed a lifelong dream and graduated from Fort Hays State University in Kansas in 2007. The first class she took at the university was in 1930.
Dr. Ruth Westheimer
Dr. Ruth, as the role model is known by millions of fans, is a famous sex therapist who was born in Germany and spent time traveling and living in many different places, including Switzerland, Palestine, Israel, France, and the United States. She trained as a scout and sniper and was seriously wounded in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. She studied psychology in Paris and began speaking about the need for sex education programming in 1980 at the age of 52. Those speeches became the stepping stone to international fame as an activist, advocate, and “sexpert.” She has written multiple books and won many awards.
Getty was a theater actress whose career spanned an astonishing five decades before receiving due recognition. Getty exploded with popularity during the 1980s with her portrayal of Dorothy on the hit show The Golden Girls. She received Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress seven years in a row and won the coveted award in 1988 at the age of 65.
The New York Times wrote that her win “was a remarkable coup for an actress then in her 60s who had worked for decades with almost no recognition at all.”
Reaching the poles might not be an attainable goal, but it should serve as a lesson that the right mindset can produce spectacular results, and that it’s never too late to become a role model. Painting and writing can be done from anywhere in the world, at any age. Opportunities for greatness are there for those willing to pursue them. There is no age limit or gender limit. All one needs is a burning passion to turn a dream into a reality.