Women Born Rich, Made Good?
July 28, 2006 2:21 PM   Subscribe

Can you think of women born into significant wealth and status who have gone on to public and powerful careers of their own, not on the basis (even in part) of having married someone famous, powerful, or rich? Anywhere, anytime . . .
posted by fourcheesemac to Society & Culture (52 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Queen Elizabeth I of England.
posted by handful of rain at 2:29 PM on July 28, 2006


(though I guess it's technically the first Queen Elizabeth; I don't think the "I" is appropriate. D'oh)
posted by handful of rain at 2:30 PM on July 28, 2006


Julia Louis-Dreyfus?
posted by ODiV at 2:31 PM on July 28, 2006


Sure. My grandmother Dorothy Schiff is an excellent example. She made her husbands famous, not vice versa. The Wiki really doesn't do her justice. Man, I could tell you stories.
posted by The Bellman at 2:31 PM on July 28, 2006


How about the late Katherine Graham who ran the Washington Post after her husband died?
posted by bim at 2:32 PM on July 28, 2006


I just heard of Gertrude Bell for the first time last week. Really interesting life.

And of course there's Elizabeth I, who never married.

Various modern heads of state: Maggie Thatcher, Angela Merkel, Bachelet (PM of Chile), Gandhi (her father's daughter all the way; I think the only thing she took from her husband was her name)... Hell, there are probably a ton more.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:32 PM on July 28, 2006


Sorry; not all of those were born into significant wealth (most, though, depending on what you consider significant).
posted by mr_roboto at 2:34 PM on July 28, 2006


Mary Cassatt.

Mary Shelley, to some extent. It kind of depends on what you mean by "status."
posted by occhiblu at 2:36 PM on July 28, 2006


Gloria Vanderbilt, aka Anderson Cooper's mom.
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:36 PM on July 28, 2006


Julia Child could probably also qualify.
posted by occhiblu at 2:42 PM on July 28, 2006


And Sofia Coppola.
posted by occhiblu at 2:45 PM on July 28, 2006


There are probably lots of examples from Hollywood royalty, if that qualifies as "significant wealth and status." Gwyneth Paltrow and Anjelina Jolie come to mind (their famous-person marriages came after they were successful).
posted by brain_drain at 2:45 PM on July 28, 2006


Belinda Stronach (Canadian MP)
posted by rumbles at 2:47 PM on July 28, 2006


Benazir Bhutto, former President of the Oxford Union and Prime Minister (twice, the first time when she was 35) of Pakistan
posted by matteo at 2:48 PM on July 28, 2006


Paris Hilton?
posted by ajr at 2:51 PM on July 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


Paloma Picasso
posted by hydrophonic at 2:51 PM on July 28, 2006


jane addams; florence nightingale. wasn't sandra day o'connor's father rich?

am i missing something in your question? it doesn't seem all that uncommon. for a number of women, the only chance they had to do something with their lives came from having been born to wealth or privilege.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:52 PM on July 28, 2006


No, i'm just looking for as many examples as possible. Wealth, power, prestige, and gender interact in complex ways. The question was intentionally broad. The real issue has to do with the value of a Cinderella story, the subject of a conversation around the lab today.
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:57 PM on July 28, 2006


To be fair, if you're born into high status, that's always going to have something to do with the basis for your career. But there are still plenty of women who have gone on to build their own reputations on top of that, which I think is more what you're looking for. Hatshepsut, for instance, leaps to mind.
posted by magodesky at 2:58 PM on July 28, 2006


Ivanka Trump will quite possibly one day be the most powerful woman in the world. I've heard nothing but good about her both as a person and as a business woman. Some girls get all the assets, eh?
posted by muddgirl at 2:58 PM on July 28, 2006


Peggy Guggenheim
posted by occhiblu at 2:59 PM on July 28, 2006


The stunning Inez Milholland
posted by kalimac at 3:14 PM on July 28, 2006


The main problem to compiling such a list is that upper-class women could generally not have a career until roughly 30-35 years ago, for a variety of social reasons. Furthermore, "well-bred" women were never, ever supposed to get their names in the papers, except on the occasion of their births, marriages, and deaths.

Gloria Steinem goes into some depth about the issue in some of her early feminist writings; usually the unspoken rule was that the closer a daughter/niece/granddaughter was to a business or financial dynasty, the more ignorant she was kept about its workings, and the more she was valued as a social lubricant to continuing and expanding its existence, rather than groomed as an active member of the firm. For example, she could marry well and her future husband could be someone who was sometimes allowed to join the family trade, or she could help open doors of opportunity for her husband or family (and thus, their business) by participating in charitable events and making valuable contacts in the commuity. It was "soft power", not hard, if there was power at all.

My point is that when you ask about "careers", you neglect the much longer history of how wealthy women could and did manage to exercise their autonomy and power, despite all these strictures, in favor of a roughly two-generation-old definition of "career". Jane Addams and the women of the Settlement House movement, or financial backers of the early labor movement, or some Abolitionists, or early Suffragettes, many of whom came from well-off families and resented their lack of power relative to their equally rich brothers, had careers. They just weren't paid, usually, and so we don't get to think of what they did as "careers". Lots of the behind-the-scenes stuff that kept cultures thriving, charities for everything from the arts to hospitals to schools, were the "careers" of wealthy women for centuries. For many women of certain social groups, those activities are still their career, and their pride.

All that being said, in modern times, I can think of these women from wealthy families who also made independent names for themselves:

Abigail Johnson of Fidelity Investments - 28th richest person in the world in 2006. Miuccia Prada made the family business a household name. Same goes for Donatella Versace; her background was well-off, but the family was in finance, not fashion, and she was always a strong behind-the-scenes figure even when her brother was titularly running the business. There's also Marilyn Carlson Nelson, CEO of the Carlson Companies. Christy Todd Whitman, Mary Landrieu, and other women from political dynasties have picked up their family's political reins--or gone into political reporting, such as Cokie Roberts.

Ditto and underline the previous mention of Julia Louis-Dreyfus (you must check out this comparison with Paris Hilton). Also, Peggy Guggenheim: her art museums are incredibly important--and it's a little-known fact that she and her money saved many artists and their families, not just their important art, from Nazi's, especially by helping them escape through Marseilles, working with Varian Fry's group--which included rich and beautiful socialite Mary Jayne Gold, whose "career" (again, of the unpaid and charitable variety) was saving thousands from Europe.
posted by Asparagirl at 3:36 PM on July 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


And speaking of Ivanka Trump and the Trump family, her aunt Maryanne Trump Barry, older sister to Donald, is a judge on the US Court of Appeals.
posted by Asparagirl at 3:48 PM on July 28, 2006


To be fair, if you're born into high status, that's always going to have something to do with the basis for your career.

Note that the question was about women born into high status who "have gone on to public and powerful careers of their own, not on the basis (even in part) of having married someone famous, powerful, or rich", not about women who have gone on to public and powerful careers of their own whose bases had nothing to do with the circumstances of their family of origin.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 3:57 PM on July 28, 2006


Christina of Sweeden
posted by jmgorman at 4:04 PM on July 28, 2006


Carly Simon!

Paris Hilton should qualify, she's likely made way more money on her own notoriety + business savvy already than she was in line to inherit.
posted by lia at 4:24 PM on July 28, 2006


Tori Spelling is reading this list and crying.

Would Princess Di count?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:31 PM on July 28, 2006


Note that the question was about women born into high status who "have gone on to public and powerful careers of their own, not on the basis (even in part) of having married someone famous, powerful, or rich", not about women who have gone on to public and powerful careers of their own whose bases had nothing to do with the circumstances of their family of origin.
Hey, I don't have to "fully comprehend the question before answering" if I don't want to. I leave that for all of the powerful women. :-p
posted by magodesky at 4:32 PM on July 28, 2006


My point is that when you ask about "careers", you neglect the much longer history of how wealthy women could and did manage to exercise their autonomy and power, despite all these strictures, in favor of a roughly two-generation-old definition of "career".
Yes, I agree. In the spirit of Asparagirl's answer, Edith Wharton comes to mind.
posted by butternut at 4:41 PM on July 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


Eleanor Roosevelt
posted by lois1950 at 4:48 PM on July 28, 2006


Nancy Mitford
posted by arha at 5:41 PM on July 28, 2006


Thinking about it, Decca Mitford is even more eligable.
posted by arha at 5:46 PM on July 28, 2006


George Sand
posted by arha at 5:52 PM on July 28, 2006


Samantha Boardman is a doctor (psychiatrist IIRC) and she is heiress to the Citibank fortune.
posted by Soda-Da at 6:02 PM on July 28, 2006


Indira Gandhi's father was Jawaharlal Nehru.

Corazon Aquino.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:19 PM on July 28, 2006


Hetty Green The Witch of Wall Street. She lived around the turn of last century. She was born into a wealthy whaling family. She made a fortune on Wall Street when women were not on Wall Street. She was a great trader. Not well known, but deserves to be thought of along with Jesse Livermore, Bernard Baruch and the other great traders of the early 20th century.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:51 PM on July 28, 2006


Jade Jagger. Stella McArtney. Paris yes.
posted by madstop1 at 6:57 PM on July 28, 2006


What about Grace Kelley and/or Audrey Hepburn?
posted by Addlepated at 8:23 PM on July 28, 2006


Although much of her life and fame were inextricably bound to her beloved Percy, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley arguably belongs to the "well-born, yet self-made" parameters you set out. Of the two, Mary, the creator of "The Modern Prometheus" and "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman," has had by far the greater social impact.
posted by rob511 at 11:02 PM on July 28, 2006


Katharine Hepburn.
posted by hazelshade at 11:20 PM on July 28, 2006


Anne Bernays--double great-niece of Freud.
posted by brujita at 11:53 PM on July 28, 2006


Another vote for Julia Louis-Dreyfus. She's in line for an inheritance that makes Paris Hilton look like a welfare recipient.
posted by PenDevil at 1:34 AM on July 29, 2006


Some historical British figures: Elizabeth Fry, Florence Nightingale , Nancy Astor (American-born).

Also Ada, Lady Lovelace (as in the computer language Ada). Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (smallpox).

Most women authors of early days, depending on what you call "significant" wealth.

Lise Meitner (again, how much wealth and privilege?) Miriam Rothschild presumably had enough (there is a story, which I can't find with a quick Google, that when asked as a child what she would like for a present, "anything in the world", she chose a school for a local village).
posted by Idcoytco at 4:34 AM on July 29, 2006


Of the two, Mary, the creator of "The Modern Prometheus" and "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman," has had by far the greater social impact.

Mary Shelley never wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women — her mother did. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein and The Last Man.
posted by orange swan at 7:22 AM on July 29, 2006


I'm surprised no one has mentioned Jackie Kennedy-Onassis, especially considering her career at Doubleday near the end of her life, editing and encouraging the authors of several significant books.
posted by lhauser at 8:01 AM on July 29, 2006


Sister Parish
posted by IndigoJones at 9:21 AM on July 29, 2006


Dona Gracia Nasi
posted by IndigoJones at 9:28 AM on July 29, 2006


I just read about Robin Chandler Duke in the current issue of Vogue. She comes from a privileged background. Vogue mentions that her father worked in the family's law firm. She was one of the first female stockbrokers on the NYSE. She was also the ambassador to Norway under Clinton.
posted by quoththeraven at 11:46 AM on July 29, 2006


Thanks for the correction, orange swan. Stoopit man (me)!
posted by rob511 at 5:45 PM on July 29, 2006




Cleopatra
posted by Maia at 11:54 PM on August 1, 2006


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