5 Women Who Reinvented Themselves

The Retirement Whisperer believes retirement is a time for reinvention and new beginnings.  To celebrate Women’s History Month, here are the stories of five inspiring women who reached new heights later in life in the arts, exploration, athletics, business and education.

The Writer

Harriet Doerr

Harriet Doerr published her first novel when she was 73.  That novel, “Stones for Ibarra,” won the American Book Award for first fiction, and was described as a “perfect book” by the author Alice Adams.  Born in 1910, Ms. Doerr dropped out of college to marry and raise a family, returning to college in 1975 and gaining entrance to Stanford University’s creative writing program.  According to her obituary in the New York Times, “other students resented her presence, until she read her first piece aloud.”  Harriet Doerr went on to publish another novel (at age 83) and a collection of essays.  She died in 2002 at age 92.

The Swimmer

Katherine Pelton took up competitive swimming at age 70 and, ten years later, shattered Masters swimming records for the 80-84 age division.  Her favorite stroke was the technically demanding butterfly, where she held records for 50 yards, 100 yards, and 200 yards. Ms. Pelton swam more than 2,000 yards every day, and died in 1992 at age 87.

The Explorer

Barbara Hillary

After surviving lung cancer at 67 and retiring from nursing, Barbara Hillary became interested in traveling to the North and South Poles.  She raised $25,000 to fund her expeditions and, in 2007 at age 76, became the first African American women to stand on the North Pole, four years later achieving the same first at the South Pole.

The Entrepreneur

Stephanie King at age 62 founded a website to sell crafts and other products created by female artisans around the world.  After a corporate career, Ms. King grew interested in issues of social justice and saw that women in poorer countries around the world needed financial independence to escape trafficking, arranged marriages, and other “subhuman conditions.”  Her business sourced products from Afghanistan, Guatemala, Nepal, Ethiopia and other parts of the world.

The Scholar

Nola Ochs

Nola Ochs was born in rural Kansas in 1911 where, after graduating from high school,she taught in a one-room schoolhouse before marrying and raising a family.  After her husband died in 1979, Ms. Ochs began taking community college classes before enrolling at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas where, in 2007 she received a BA in General Studies with a specialization in history.  In an interview that year she said “as long as I have my mind and health, age is just a number.” Ms. Ochs died in 2016 at age 105, leaving 13 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.


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