In her feminist memoir-festo Lean In, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg admits equating her divorce at age 25 with personal and public failure. "For many years," she explains, "I felt that no matter what I accomplished professionally, it paled in comparison to the scarlet letter D stitched on my chest."
The emotional fallout of a short-lived, childless starter marriage may seem too inconsequential even to footnote, yet Sandberg addresses it in the first chapter of her first book dedicated to female advancement. And in doing so, one of Forbes' top-ranked power women acknowledges that all the shattered glass ceilings in the world do little to lessen the shame underlying divorce.
So imagine the stigma endured by the following nine lady divorcées, who came of age prior to women's liberation. Employment prospects were limited, yet they forged remarkable professional legacies that have far outlasted any societal backlash or bruised egos they suffered from dissolving their marriages. And perhaps divorce in part motivated them to "lean in" and pursue excellence all the more.