They Were Just Getting Started
While “30 under 30” lists do a service highlighting the remarkable work and projects of the young, we’re reaching a cultural saturation point. These lists are so common, it feels like if you’re not Lena Dunham by age 25 you might as well pack up and go home.
Not so. Many iconic women, from Nora Ephron to Anna Wintour, didn’t make their way onto the public stage (or any magazine list) until well into their 30s or 40s. Here are nine female role models who prove there’s always time to make your mark.
At 28, Nora Ephron was a reporter for The New York Post breaking aggressively important news like secret celebrity marriages. While she briefly went on to do trend pieces for bigger magazines, such as Good Housekeeping, Nora was still a good decade-plus away from drafting iconic films like Silkwood and Heartburn. She hit the sweet spot — 48 years old — when When Harry Met Sally premiered.
In her late 20s, Joan Didion experienced a two-year stint at Vogue, first as a promotional copywriter, then as associate features editor. She had also published her first novel, Run, River. But she was still five years away from the nonfiction collection that would define her career, Slouching Towards Bethlehem. In 1968, when Joan was 34, The New York Times Book Review described her work as “some of the finest magazine pieces published by anyone in this country in recent years.”
Yes, by 29, Dorothy had quite a lot under her belt: She had worked at Vogue as an editorial assistant and Vanity Fair as a drama critic. At 30, she had just published her first short story, “Such a Pretty Little Picture," for Smart Set. At 33, she published her first collection of poetry, a best seller titled Enough Rope. The following year, in 1929, she would receive the O. Henry Award for her short story “Big Blonde.” Dorothy’s more notable works of fiction and poetry would follow as she got deeper into her 30s and 40s, such as Sunset Gun (1928), Laments for the Living (1930), After Such Pleasures (1933), and Here Lies (1939).
At 28 years old, the future longtime aide to Hillary Clinton was associate editor of Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. Two years prior, in 1996, she had been a White House intern while attending George Washington University. Later, she was hired as a staff assistant to the First Lady’s chief of staff, Maggie Williams — an impressive post. But Huma was just getting started.
By 31, Huma was Clinton’s aide and advisor under the lofty title Traveling Chief of Staff. A 2007 Vogue story described her as “Hillary’s Secret Weapon.” Clinton was quoted in the article saying, “Huma Abedin has the energy of a woman in her 20s, the confidence of a woman in her 30s, the experience of a woman in her 40s, and the grace of a woman in her 50s…. I am lucky to have had her on my team for a decade now.” To be fair, Huma is still a youthful 37 and may very well be in the beginning stages of her career.
At 29, Sallie was a stay-at-home mother trying to get back into the workforce and not exactly having an easy time of it. She eventually landed a job as an an equity research analyst at Sanford Bernstein. From there, she became director of research. And then chairman. And then CEO of Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. After being named CEO of Citigroup's shiny new Smith Barney unit and moving onto Bank of America (where she was ultimately fired), Sallie is now the chairman of Ellevate, a global network of professional ladies.
In her late 20’s, Keija had quit her job as a corporate lawyer with a six-figure salary after deciding she wanted more than the law. At 27, she took an 85 percent pay cut to work as an intern at startup travel magazine Travel Savvy. She eventually worked her way up to Conde Nast, where she is now the first African-American EIC of Brides nearly 15 years later.
At 24, Amy had left her doctoral program at UC Berkeley. She started a business-writing firm, penning speeches for executives and salesmen before becoming a full-time freelance business writer. But Tan confesses that she “secretly dreamed of becoming an artist.” At 33, she began writing fiction and had her first short story published the following year. Amy’s best-selling The Joy Luck Club would not be published until she was 37.
In her late 20s, Anna had scored her first position as a fashion editor at Viva, an erotic women’s magazine published by the then editor of Penthouse. Although the content was notably on the raunchy side (including full-frontal nudity), Anna used the opportunity to leverage expensive, large-scale photo shoots in other countries, for which she became known (Vogue foreshadowing).
Later, she went to work at Savvy as the fashion editor, and, in 1981, she went on to New York magazine. In 1985, she was named editor in chief of British Vogue. But she would not assume her current EIC position at Vogue — a long-term career goal — until the tender age of 39.
Jane didn’t appear on camera until she was in her late 20s — a small role in the 1988 film Vice Versa with Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage. Her next film role wouldn’t come until five years later in 1993, when she was cast as a doctor in The Fugitive. Her arguably career-defining role in Best in Show came in 2000 when Jane was 40.