Maria Shriver: 10 women who inspire me

The first lady of California pays tribute to the strength and tenacity of activists like Gloria Steinem and trailblazers like Oprah Winfrey.

The missionary whose name is synonymous with charity won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her humanitarian work in India. Mother Teresa called herself a “pencil in the hand of God,” a statement Shriver said has stuck with her.

“That really we are here to do that kind of work is what I find so inspirational about her,” she added.

Raveendran / AFP

The rags to riches media mogul has been ranked by Forbes as the richest African-American of the 20th century and has been called the world’s most powerful woman. She makes it a point to give back to others, from the more than $51 million in donations given away through Oprah’s Angel Network, to funding a school for girls in South Africa.

“I’ve known her for 30 years,” Shriver said. “Her determination, her vision, her generosity of spirit … inspires me every single day.”

C.j. Lafrance / Getty Images North America

No matter what obstacles this former first lady, senator, presidential candidate and now Secretary of State faces, she stays in the political game.

“She hangs in there seeking to change the world,” Shriver said. “I find her incredibly inspirational and tough.”

Jewel Samad / AFP

First lady Michelle Obama may make fashion waves, but Shriver admires her more for her commitment to her family and the weight she carries with the president. “I think she is a new kind of political wife and an inspiration to all ages,” Shriver said.

Jonathan Ernst / X01676

Journalist and social activist Dorothy Day founded the Catholic Worker movement in 1933. She maintained progressive social and economic views, while at the same time embracing Catholicism.

“She made a huge difference in the world and I always think she’d be better known than she is,” Shriver said.

Lee Lockwood / Time & Life Pictures

Gloria Steinem has been a force in the feminist movement since the early 1960s. She co-founded Ms. magazine in 1972 and helped start several women’s organizations, including the Women’s Action Alliance, the Coalition of Labor Union Women and the National Women’s Political Caucus.

“You can’t be a working woman today and not tip your hat to Gloria Steinem,” Shriver said. “She broke down a lot myths – she gave dreams to women.”

Amanda Edwards / Getty Images North America

Tennis player Billie Jean King won 39 Grand Slam titles. She fought against sexism in sports, and helped create the first tennis tour for women. She is best known for the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” match in which she defeated former men’s tennis champion Bobby Riggs, who was known for mocking women’s sports.

“She was an inspiration to me on the tennis court but she’s been a greater hero to me off the tennis court,” Shriver said. “She gives back every day of her life.”

Bebeto Matthews / AP

Belgian-born fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg is a household name for fashionistas. She has launched several successful businesses selling her high-end clothing, cosmetics and more, but is best-known for creating the wrap dress, which landed her on the covers of Newsweek and Wall Street Journal in 1976.

“She was an entrepreneur before many women knew what that was,” said Shriver.

Gary Gershoff / Getty Images North America

An author and the wife of fellow aviator Charles Lindbergh, Anne Morrow Lindbergh was herself a star in the aviation field, winning an Aerospace Explorer Award as well as being inducted in to the National Aviation Hall of Fame and the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Shriver says Lindbergh’s “Gift from the Sea” is her “favorite book of all time,” adding that she was an “extraordinary writer … a woman who was married to a famous man and still had her own life and her own career.”

Leonard Mccombe / Time & Life Pictures

Maria Shriver’s mother Eunice Kennedy Shriver was one of her biggest influences. She spent her life advocating for children with disabilities and helped nationalize the Special Olympics. She won numerous awards for her efforts, including the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“[She] worked 40 years, 50 years … to give people with intellectual disabilities the same rights as everyone else,” she said on Meet the Press. “It took her lifetime to achieve that.”

Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images North America