[Bella’s intro: I always have a stack of books waiting for my attention. Before I add a book to my pile, I flip through it. When I did that with Maureen Paraventi’s new book, The New Old Maid: Satisfied Single Women, I noticed something great. At the end of the book was a section, “Famous Old Maids,” of biographies – usually about a page each – of famous single women. Even though I have not read the book yet, I knew immediately that this section was something “Single at Heart” readers would appreciate. I asked the author if she would share a short version of the biographies with us, and I am delighted that she agreed.]
Famous Single Women: Nothing in Their Way
Guest Post by Maureen Paraventi
I’d like to suggest what will be a subversive notion to people who think that being a wife and mother is the highest possible calling for any woman: that marriage might prevent some women from achieving what they really want to do. From fulfilling their destinies, so to speak.
Would women today have the vote if Susan B. Anthony had had to balance her activism with putting dinner on the table for a husband every evening? As ruler of England for 44 years, would Elizabeth I have had to make sure her spouse didn’t feel neglected while she was busy making decisions that affected an entire nation? If Dr. Condoleeza Rice had been married during her tenure as U.S. Secretary of State, would she have felt conflicted about the amount of travel she was required to do if there’d been a husband raising an eyebrow every time she pulled a suitcase out of the closet? Would a married Dr. Mae C. Jemison have had the time to gain the education and training she needed to have in order to fly into space as the first female African-American astronaut?
Here’s a look at some other famous single women and their extraordinary accomplishments:
Louisa May Alcott wrote the novel Little Women and worked toward the emancipation of women and the prohibition of alcohol.
Jane Austen’s romantic novels — like Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma – continue to be embraced by readers and turned into TV shows and movies.
Tyra Banks parlayed a successful modeling career into acting roles in films and TV shows, reality shows which she created and hosted, and her own talk show, which won two Daytime Emmy Awards.
Clara Barton rose to fame as the “Angel of the Battlefield” during the Civil War, defying convention and regulations by nursing wounded soldiers and bringing wagonloads of desperately needed supplies to the front lines. She also opened the first free public school in New Jersey, worked for civil rights and, in her spare time, founded the American Red Cross.
Jacqueline Bisset’s acting career has resulted a Golden Globe award, an Emmy nomination and the Légion d’honneur from France. Bisset has starred in films like The Detective, Bullitt, Murder on the Orient Express, The Deep, Rich and Famous, and Under the Volcano.
Susan Boyle’s performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” on the TV show Britain’s Got Talent propelled her into a successful music career that has included best-selling albums and her own television special, I Dreamed a Dream: the Susan Boyle Story.
“Coco” Chanel transformed fashion – and women’s silhouettes – with her Chanel brand, which introduced the little black dress and the iconic fragrance Chanel No. 5.
Sheryl Crow went from teaching music to schoolkids in Missouri to being a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and actor. She has won nine Grammy Awards to date for her songs, which include “All I Wanna Do,” “Leaving Las Vegas,” “If it Makes You Happy,” “Strong Enough.”
Kristen Davis is best known for playing the role of Charlotte in HBO’s Sex and the City. When she’s not acting, Davis helps raise awareness about the cruelty of the global ivory trade, for which elephants are being poached to extinction.
Sisters Bessie and Sarah Delany were career women and civil rights activists. Bessie became only the second African-American woman to work as a dentist in New York State. Sarah was the first African-American allowed to teach domestic science in New York City schools.
Emily Dickinson wrote 1,800 poems that challenged existing conventions and established her as America’s foremost female poet. Sadly, only a handful of them were published during her lifetime.
Edie Falco followed up the unforgettable role of Carmela Soprano in the hit series The Sopranos with the title role in Nurse Jackie on Showtime, in which she plays a drug-addicted health care provider. Falco has won four Emmys, two Golden Globes and five Screen Actors Guild Awards and a Tony nomination for her acting.
Greta Garbo was one of the few actors to successfully make the leap from silent films to talkies, starring in films like Ana Christie, Camille and Ninotchka. She inexplicably retired from acting at the age of 36.
Comic Chelsea Handler has conquered the entertainment industry with a successful standup touring act, roles on television shows, her own talk show and bestselling books like My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands.
Daryl Hannah has starred in Splash, Kill Bill. Blade Runner, Clan of the Cave Bear, Roxanne, Wall Street, Legal Eagles, High Spirits, Steel Magnolias and many other films, but her real passion is for protecting the environment. Her activism has gotten her arrested and jailed on several occasions.
In addition to performing with Blondie (which she co-founded) Debbie Harry has released five solo albums and acted in TV shows and dozens of films, including Hairspray, Copland and A Good Day to Die. Now in her 70s, Harry continues to tour with Blondie.
Diane Keaton is an Academy Award-winning actress who has starred in iconic films like The Godfather, Baby Boom, Annie Hall, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Father of the Bride and Marvin’s Room. She’s also a photographer, writer, real estate developer and singer.
Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize and earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Winona Ryder’s film work includes Heathers, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Mermaids, Reality Bites, Star Trek, and The Age of Innocence, for which she won a Golden Globe Award.
Eudora Welty’s short stories and novels include The Wide Net and Other Stories, The Golden Apples, The Robber Bridegroom and The Optimist’s Daughter. Her work has garnered her the Pulitzer Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the French Legion of Honor.
Oprah Winfrey rose from humble beginnings to create a business empire that includes talk shows, movies, a magazine and her own TV network, making her one of the richest, most influential women in the world.
[From Bella: Thanks again, Maureen!]