10 Incredible Stories of Women Who Went From Rags to Riches

rags to riches stories of wealthy women

These rags to riches stories are of women who did what others considered impossible. They didn’t grow up with advantages. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Many experienced extreme poverty, failures, inequality, and massive challenges.

Their amazing stories highlight for you what is possible. Their lives say “you can do this too.” So, listen well. It’s the power of belief.

Believe you can, and you will.

Now, enjoy the stories!

1. Oprah Winfrey – She Built a Media Empire

wealthy woman highlights, Oprah Winfrey

Oprah was born into poverty in a rural town in Mississippi. She was sexually abused starting at age 9, and became pregnant at age 14. She lost the baby shortly after birth. After, she moved to Nashville to live with her father and eventually attended Tennessee State University. She dropped out just one credit shy of her degree, but graduated years later in 1986.

Winfrey was hired to do the low-rated half-hour morning talk show, but it soon became incredibly popular. From there, she did the Oprah Winfrey Show, an hour special that was the number one daily talk show in America for decades.

Time Magazine wrote in 1988:

“What she lacks in journalistic toughness, she makes up for in plainspoken curiosity, robust humor and, above all empathy.”

“When you undervalue what you do, the world will undervalue who you are.” 

2. Dolly Parton – Country Music Legend

Dolly Parton was born as the fourth of 12 children in rural Appalachia. Her parents struggled to make ends meet for their large family.

Despite her humble origins, Parton grew up surrounded by musicians who encouraged her ambitions. Her uncle, Bill Owens, got 10-year-old Parton her first gig on “The Cas Walker Show” in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Over a span of five decades, Parton has won eleven Grammy awards. She is considered one of the best-selling music artists of her time.

“When someone shows you their true colors, believe them.”

3. Barbara Corcoran – She Turned $1,000 Into A Multi-Billion Dollar Business

wealthy women highlights

Barbara Corcoran was a D student in high school and college. She was labeled the “dumb kid” in school and bullied. She later learned that she had dyslexia. She held 22 jobs by the time she turned 23.

But then she borrowed $1,000 and quit her job as a waitress to start a tiny real estate company in New York City. Using the unconventional lessons she learned from her homemaker mom, she built it into a $5 billion dollar business. 

“Don’t you dare underestimate the power of your own instinct.”

4. J.K. Rowling – Author of the Massively Successful Harry Potter Series

wealthy women rags to riches stories

Before J.K. Rowling sold over 500 million books, she was a single mother living on welfare in England. During writing, Rowling’s beloved mother passed away, pushing her into depression as she wrote.

Then, upon completing the first book, she sent three chapters to literary agents.

Only one responded back.

As time passed, she received twelve rejections. They told her the book would never be a commercial success or interesting enough. But, finally Bloomsbury agreed to publish.

And the world was blown away by her work.

“I was as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless. But rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

5. Mary J. Walker – The Original Wealthy Woman

wealthy woman highlights Madam C.J. Walker

Sarah Breedlove (her original name) was born in 1867. Her parents were freed slaves and Sarah was the first child in her family born into freedom after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. She was orphaned at the age of 7. She moved to Mississippi at age 10 and began working as a domestic servant.

She had only three months of formal education, which she learned during Sunday school literacy lessons at a church.

In 1906, Sarah married Charles Joseph Walker, and through this marriage became known as Madam C.J. Walker (though they divorced 6 years later).

Alone with one child, she was determined to provide formal education for her daughter.

She also suffered from severe dandruff and scalp problems. So, she learned hair care from her brothers (who were barbers). She then began working for a hair care company that largely ignored the African American community.

Over time, she developed her own product line and hair care business, selling door-to-door and teaching black women how to groom and style their hair. Walker’s business spread across the United States and she trained nearly 20,000 women as leaders and sales agents.

“I had to make my own living and my own opportunity. But I made it! Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.”

6. Indra Nooyi – Business Executive and Former CEO of Pepsi

Although Nooyi did not grow up in the poorest conditions, her story is one of humble origins in middle-class India.

Nooyi moved to the US in pursuit of a management degree with barely any money. She worked nights as a receptionist to earn enough to buy her first suit for a job interview and pay for her college fees. After graduation, she landed positions at Johnson and Johnson and Motorola.

Then, after six years of directing international corporate strategy projects and another four years as vice president at Asea Brown Boveri, Nooyi joined PepsiCo as CEO. She has consistently ranked among the world’s most powerful women.

“You need to start off saying that you have got to work twice as hard as your male, or any, counterparts.

7. Halle Berry – Oscar Winning Actress

When Halle Berry was a struggling actress, she slept in a homeless shelter. She says that her struggles during her early acting career made her stronger in the end. 

She went on to become the first woman of color to win an Academy Award for Best Actress.

“It taught me how to take care of myself and that I could live through any situation, even if it meant going to a shelter for a small stint.”

8. Coco Chanel – She Built a Fashion Empire

Coco Chanel - wealthy woman highlights

Gabrielle Chanel was born in a poor house and lived a nomadic lifestyle with her family. Her mother died when she was young, and the daughters were sent to a convent with an orphanage. It was there that Gabrielle learned to sew. She started by making doll clothes from scraps of nuns’ skirts.

Using her sewing skills from the convent, she began as a simple seamstress. She also sung in a cabernet frequented by cavalry officers. It’s said that Gabrielle acquired the name Coco from her nights singing, often with the song “Who Has Seen Coco?”

From there Chanel embraced affairs with men, but never married. She began designing hats, and what started as a diversion evolved into a commercial enterprise. In 1910, she became a licensed hat maker and opened a boutique. Her work attracted a theatre actress, who wore her hats and made them popular.

In 1913, Chanel opened another boutique, where she introduced deluxe casual clothing – hats, jackets, sweaters, and the sailor blouse. The fashions were constructed of surprising fabrics, like jersey and tricot. At the time this was primarily used for men’s underwear.

In 1922, Chanel was introduced to a businessman interested in selling Chanel No. 5 in his department store. For only 10 percent, Chanel licensed her name and withdrew from the business operations. But she then worked for more than twenty years to gain back control over the name.

“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”

9. Ursula Burns – Former Chairwoman and CEO of Xerox

Burns, one of three children, was raised by a single mother in a housing project in Manhattan. The area was known for its gangs. Despite their poverty, Burn’s mother worked two jobs to send her children to school. It paid off.

As Burns was completing her master’s degree, she worked at Xerox as a summer intern. She permanently joined the staff a year later and rose through the ranks to become CEO.

“The lower east side of New York City was really bad. Gangs and drug addicts were all there. The common denominator and great equaliser was poverty.

10. Serena & Venus Williams – Tennis Champions

incredible rags to riches stories of women, the Williams sisters

Serena and Venus Williams, arguably the best tennis players ever, were from the streets of Compton.

Their father wrote a 78-page plan before they were even born. He then broke many of the societal “rules” of raising tennis players. And the family faced countless adversity from gangs, racism, and poverty.

“The success of every woman should be the inspiration to another. We should raise each other up. Make sure you’re very courageous: be strong, be extremely kind, and above all be humble.”

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