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Oprah, Melinda Gates and 8 More of the Richest Women in History

·8 min read
Themba Hadebe/AP/REX
Themba Hadebe/AP/REX

Girl power is at an all-time high in 2021. Female entrepreneurship in the U.S. is on the rise, and more and more women are landing C-level jobs in top companies.

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See: How To Thrive as a Female Founder in a Male-Dominated World

Although women still have a long way to go in some areas, the progress made so far is thanks in part to the fierce women who've paved the way. Learn about these 10 powerful women who are worth tons of money.

Last updated: Aug. 26, 2021

Tinseltown / Shutterstock.com
Tinseltown / Shutterstock.com

Oprah Winfrey

She’s now a media mogul with an estimated fortune of $2.5 billion. Yet Oprah Winfrey is one billionaire who came from humble beginnings. Raised on a farm without indoor plumbing, Winfrey suffered serial abuse as a child.

Determined to change her life, she became the youngest person and first African American woman news anchor at WTVF-TV in Nashville, Tennessee, when she was just 19 years old. Eventually, she landed her own talk show, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which ran for 25 years.

In 2011 — the same year her talk show ended — she launched the Oprah Winfrey Network. The 67-year-old has also worked on several feature films in recent years, as well as branching into philanthropy and even earning the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then-President Barack Obama in 2013.

Winfrey is also in grocery stores nationwide with her O, That’s Good! Line, produced by the Kraft Heinz company. Marketed as comfort food with a twist, the brand offers nutritious frozen skillet meals, refrigerated soups, sides and pizza.

Read More: Breaking the Glass Ceiling: How To Land a Leadership Position

tanja-vashchuk / Shutterstock.com
tanja-vashchuk / Shutterstock.com

Cleopatra

Known as the “Queen of the Nile,” Cleopatra died on Aug. 12, 30 B.C., but her legend lives on. Despite being the last queen of the Macedonian dynasty that ruled Egypt, she had faint — if any — Egyptian roots.

Also one of the richest women in history, her net worth was an estimated $95.8 billion, according to the book “Cleopatra: A Life.” Largely considered one of the smartest, most fascinating people of all time, Cleopatra spoke as many as a dozen different languages.

She considered herself a living goddess and used this to her advantage. Legend has it she once smuggled herself into Julius Caesar’s personal quarters in a carpet or linen sack.

Brave and bold, she led several dozen Egyptian warships into battle while married to Mark Antony. The couple created their own drinking society called the Inimitable Livers.

See: 3 Money Moves Every Woman Must Make, According To Rachel Cruze

Aneo / Flickr.com
Aneo / Flickr.com

Anne Cox Chambers

More than just an heiress, Anne Cox Chambers sat on the board of her family business — Cox Enterprises — prior to her death at age 100 in 2020. Established as a newspaper business by her father, James M. Cox, in 1898, the privately held company has interests in communications, media and other businesses.

Once the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, Chambers also held the French Legion of Honor title. Prior to her death, the media baroness’ net worth was estimated at $17 billion.

Deemed the richest person in Atlanta by Forbes in 2016, Chambers was a billionaire with a charitable heart. She started donating enormous portions of her income from a trust established by her father to charity in the 1980s, and by the time it was dissolved in 2015, all proceeds from the trust were being distributed to 32 groups, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Rob Latour/REX
Rob Latour/REX

Abigail Johnson

In 1946, Abigail Johnson’s grandfather founded Fidelity Management & Research Company. Today, she’s the third-generation family member to head up the firm. As chairman and CEO of the company, Johnson presides over $11.1 trillion in customer assets as of June 30, 2021.

Unlike many legacy executives, Johnson has worked her way to the top. In high school and college, she served as a Fidelity customer service representative. She joined the company full time in 1988, working as a mutual fund manager before entering the executive suite.

A Harvard grad, Johnson has an estimated net worth of $23.5 billion. As of 2021, she is the richest person in Massachusetts, according to Forbes.

JStone / Shutterstock.com
JStone / Shutterstock.com

Melinda Gates

She divorced Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in 2021, but Melinda Gates is still a philanthropist intent on changing the world for the better. Named the fifth most powerful woman in the world by Forbes in 2021, she’s a billionaire in her own right, with a net worth of $5.7 billion.

A graduate of Duke University, she co-founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000 and currently serves as co-chair. Created to help people around the globe enjoy healthy, productive lives, the foundation trust endowment totaled $49.9 billion as of Dec. 20, 2020.

Also intent on inspiring other billionaires to give back, she established the Giving Pledge along with her now ex-husband Bill Gates and fellow entrepreneur Warren Buffett. The pledge encourages the wealthiest people in the world to give more than half of their fortune to charity during their lifetime or to set the funds aside in their will.

Take a Look: The Gender Wage Gap Through the Years

Jacques Brinon/AP/REX
Jacques Brinon/AP/REX

Liliane Bettencourt

With a fortune of $44.7 billion, Liliane Bettencourt was the richest woman in the world at the time of her death in September 2017.

Her father, Eugene Schueller, founded L’Oreal in 1907, and the cosmetics company was valued at $107.5 billion as of May 2017, according to Forbes. Bettencourt owned 33 percent of L’Oreal. Sadly, Bettencourt’s final years were plagued by her battle with dementia, and in 2012 her grandson took over her seat on the L’Oreal board.

Bettencourt shied away from the public eye for most of her life but was thrust into the spotlight in 2015 when nine people were found guilty of scamming her. One of the convicted, photographer Francois-Marie Banier, swindled more than $1 billion in gifts from the ailing Bettencourt over a 10-year period.

Gilbert Flores/Variety/REX
Gilbert Flores/Variety/REX

Sara Blakely

In 1998, Sara Blakely didn’t have the right undergarments to wear under white pants to a party, so she made her own. This inspired her to found Spanx in 2000 and the rest is history.

Now a fashion mogul with a net worth of $750 million, Blakely created her company with $5,000 saved from working as a door-to-door fax salesperson. Along with her husband, Jesse Itzler, she is also part owner of the Atlanta Hawks.

Despite her astronomical success, Blakely remains grounded. She was the first female billionaire to join the Gates-Buffett cause. The Spanx founder also donated $5 million to female entrepreneurs through her SPANX by Sara Blakely Foundation to support the recovery and revitalization of women-owned businesses amid the COVID-19 crisis. Additionally, she teamed up with GlobalGiving to create The Red Backpack Fund, giving recipients $5,000 for their small business — the same amount she started SPANX with 20 years ago.

Making Bank: The World’s 20 Richest Millennials

Anna Hoychuk / Shutterstock.com
Anna Hoychuk / Shutterstock.com

Zhou Qunfei

Zhou Qunfei is a true rags-to-riches story. The founder and CEO of Lens Technology, Qunfei and her family have an estimated net worth of $12.5 billion.

Remarkably, Qunfei dropped out of school at age 16 to work in a factory making watch lenses. She went on to found Lens Technology, a company that makes glass screens for mobile phones and tablets for clients including Apple and Samsung. The company reportedly supplied 21% of the world’s mobile phones as of 2015.

Compare: Here’s How Much Men vs. Women Earn at Every Age

Steve Jennings / Flickr.com
Steve Jennings / Flickr.com

Laurene Powell Jobs

Laurene Powell Jobs is no stranger to business acumen. As the widow of former Apple CEO and founder Steve Jobs, Powell Jobs spends her time ― and massive fortune ― primarily helping others. Powell Jobs and her family have an estimated net worth of $21.5 billion.

After her start as an MBA student at Stanford University, she met and married Steve Jobs in 1989, raising three children with the tech mogul. Besides motherhood, Powell Jobs was busy building an empire all her own ― one with a philanthropic focus. In 1997, she founded College Track, a nonprofit organization aimed at improving high school graduation rates and college enrollment for underrepresented students. She also founded the Emerson Collective, which works closely with entrepreneurs and organizations working in the fields of immigration reform, the environment and other social justice initiatives.

Powell Jobs has also started the XQ Institute which works directly with the Emerson Collective to take part in “reimagining high school” and creating educational reform for high schools in America.

Joe Schildhorn/BFA.com/REX/Shutterstock
Joe Schildhorn/BFA.com/REX/Shutterstock

Alice Walton

The only daughter of Sam Walton ― and the heiress apparent to the Walmart empire ― Alice Walton is the second-richest woman in the world, according to Forbes.

With a net worth of $61.8 billion, Walton didn’t follow in the footsteps of her brothers and decided to focus outside of the family business. In 2011, she founded the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, which strives “to welcome all to celebrate the American spirit in a setting that unites the power of art with the beauty of nature.”

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Rachel Farrow and Priscilla Aguilera contributed to the reporting for this article.

Note: All net worth information is from Forbes, unless stated otherwise.

This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Oprah, Melinda Gates and 8 More of the Richest Women in History