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15 Incredibly Successful Women Who Were Once Stay-At-Home Moms

November 24th, 2010

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In today's workforce, even mid-career professionals switch jobs and sometimes industries when the economy goes bust or they have a sudden epiphany about their true calling. Deciding on a practical college major isn't quite as important as it once was, and you'll more than likely change jobs at least once or twice before retiring. If you're feeling stuck in your college major or panicked because you don't have a set-in-stone career plan, relax. As these 15 women prove, you can create a successful path for yourself even after years at home.

  1. Martha Stewart: Martha Stewart's had a pretty interesting past, and we're not just referring to that whole jail thing. She dabbled in modeling during her days at Barnard, got married before graduation, worked as a stockbroker even though she earned a degree in history and architectural history, and then moved her family to Connecticut to restore a 19th century farmhouse and focus on raising her young daughter Alexis. A few years later, Stewart couldn't just stay at home anymore: she started her own catering business and ultimately developed her own business empire.
  2. Nancy Pelosi: Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi made it pretty close to The White House, but she wasn't always into politics, not officially anyway. According to Ellen Goodman's piece for TruthDig.com, Pelosi "was the real mom McCoy" to her six children, all of whom she had in just five years. Pelosi earned her B.A. in political science from Trinity College in D.C. and interned for Maryland's Senator Daniel Brewster, but she married the following year. An elected member of the Democratic National Committee since 1976, Pelosi didn't actually run for office until her youngest child was about to graduate from high school.
  3. Melissa d'Arabian: Winner of 2009's The Next Food Network Star, Melissa d'Arabian is now a nationally known cooking guru with her own show about feeding families for $10 or less. Before reality TV, d'Arabian — who met her husband while working at Euro Disney near Paris — was a stay-at-home mom to her four daughters.
  4. Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Charles Lindbergh taught his young girlfriend how to fly when she was just 21, a pastime she enjoyed for much of her life. Eventually giving birth to six children, Anne accompanied her husband on many flights and was even awarded the Hubbard Gold Medal by the National Geographic Society for flying all over the world. While she didn't have a traditional career, Lindbergh did write several books and has honorary degrees from her alma mater, Smith College, and Amherst College.
  5. Dr. Laura Schlessinger: Dr. Laura is a huge (by which we mean outspoken) supporter of stay-at-home moms, and while she juggled her emerging career with attending to her family, she did choose home life over work. Dr. Laura stayed home while her son Deryk was very young and limited her radio show hours when he went to kindergarten. Schlessinger believes that all moms should stay home for at least the first three years after a child is born, and then "after that, flip a coin."
  6. Kris Jenner: Wife to Bruce Jenner and mom to the Kardashian girls (and Robert), Kris Jenner is a hilarious (and tragic?) force on her kids' various reality shows. Kris gets a paycheck from E! and is also cultivating her own entertainment management career, but when the kids were younger, Kris Kardashian — and later Kris Jenner — was content to stay at home, behind the scenes.
  7. Laura Bush: Laura Bush worked as a second grade teacher in Houston, TX, and then as a school librarian after earning her master's. After marrying George W. Bush, Laura quit the education system to work on her father-in-law's Congressional campaign. When he lost, she stopped working altogether and raised their two twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara. Since then, Laura Bush has served as the First Lady of Texas and of the United States and has independently championed for childhood literacy, the public library system, and education.
  8. Cindy McCain: Former First Lady hopeful Cindy McCain snagged returning war vet John and married him in 1980, months after he divorced his first wife. Thanks to Cindy's family's connections, John had a leg up in politics and fundraising, but after a stint in D.C. (that disappointingly included major social snubs and a few of miscarriages), the couple moved back to Phoenix. After giving birth to three children and adopting a fourth in 1991, Cindy mostly worked as a stay-at-home mom, occasionally collaborating with her father on investment projects and founding non-profit groups like the American Voluntary Medical Team. Since her children have grown up, Cindy has become the chair of Henley & Co. and has partial ownership of Anheuser-Busch and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
  9. Gloria Vanderbilt: Gloria Vanderbilt's known to be a little eccentric these days, but the mother of Anderson Cooper has had quite a life. The stressful and undoubtedly damaging custody battle she endured as a ten-year-old, three divorces, the death of a husband and the tragic suicide of her son — which she witnessed — will understandably take a toll on a person, even a very, very rich person. And while the 86-year-old Gloria now has her jeans line and a few smutty novels under her belt, she mostly stayed at home with her two sons as they grew up — between cocktail parties and hosted art exhibitions, of course.
  10. Stephenie Meyer: The Twilight author was once so unsure of her own writing ability that she considered going to law school to keep herself busy. But after Meyer had her first son as a young woman — she married her husband three years before graduating with a B.A. in English — she said that she "just wanted to be his mom" and stayed home instead. The idea for Twilight came to her in a dream, and she wrote the entire book for personal enjoyment, never imagining she'd have it published. Now, Meyer has been named "the world's most popular vampire novelist since Anne Rice" by Entertainment Weekly and her husband Christian now stays home with the children.
  11. Melinda Gates: Now known for starting the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation more than just being Bill Gates' wife (and mother of his children), Melinda Gates has a bachelor's degree in computer science and economics and an MBA, both from Duke. She met Gates while working to develop several key Microsoft products, but quit after marrying Bill. She raised two daughters and a son before co-founding the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation with her husband.
  12. J.K. Rowling: What would the world's children (and many of its adults) do without J.K. Rowling? The Harry Potter creator has achieved fame, numerous awards, incredible wealth, and even the status of Officer of the British Empire because of her contribution to fiction, entertainment, pop culture and undoubtedly reviving children's literacy. After the death of her mother, a divorce and a dark bout with depression, Rowling moved from Portugal to Scotland with her young daughter, set on earning a teaching certificate so that she could continue working in that country. But instead of teaching, Rowling began work on Harry Potter, writing in cafes so that she could walk her daughter to sleep along the way.
  13. Katharine Meyer Graham: Until her death in 2001, Graham served in executive positions — including as publisher, chairman of the board — of The Washington Post since 1969. After college, Graham worked for the San Francisco News and The Washington Post, and soon married the eventual publisher of the paper, Philip L. Graham. Katharine stopped working to raise four children, but after her husband's suicide, she was named de facto publisher, and then asserted a more official role within the company. Under her leadership, The Washington Post led the country through Watergate and other important stories of the later 20th century. her memoirs, Personal History won a Pulitzer in 1997.
  14. Lilly Pulitzer: Fashion designer Lilly Pulitzer created the sun-soaked patterns that are still used for sportswear, beach towels, bedding and accessories today, but the idea started as little more than a lemonade stand. Tired of sticking to her clothes in humid Palm Beach, Lilly — then a stay-at-home mom and "owner" of a juice stand — asked her dressmaker to fashion for her simple cotton shifts in bright colors and patterns. They were a huge hit, and even Jackie Kennedy and daughter Caroline started wearing the "Lillys" in the line's early days.
  15. Diana Vreeland: Legendary editor of Harper's Bazaar, and eventually Vogue, Diana Vreeland was an eccentric woman who loved luxury and eventually put her good eye to use writing a column for the country's top fashion magazine, but she raised her kids in London and on Park Avenue before "settling down." First writing a column for Bazaar in 1937, Vreeland eventually became editor of the magazine, and is credited with influencing Jackie Kennedy's style, discovering Lauren Bacall and Edie Sedgwick, and inspiring the character Maggie Prescott in Funny Face.

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