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How Young Martha Stewart Became The Ultimate American Homemaker

Icons | August 3, 2020

Caterer Martha Stewart outside in backyard with her pet Persian cat perched on her shoulder, 1980. (Photo by Arthur Schatz/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Who is Martha Stewart, and how did she come to rule our lives? Stewart has a professional biography that stretches back to the '60s, when she was a model and stockbroker; she vaulted to stardom in the '80s as a familiar TV and newsstand presence who is an expert on everything having to do with home life and entertaining. If you're trying to cook something, build something, plant, decorate or arrange something around the house, odds are Martha has done it already and can show you the way -- although your results may not turn out as perfect as hers. Her determination and proficiency have made Martha Stewart America's first female self-made billionaire.

Martha Stewart Started As A Model

From her modeling days. Source: (Pinterest)

Martha Stewart was born on August 3, 1941 in Jersey City, NJ, but raised in Nutley. Her Polish-American family taught her many of the skills that would follow her into her career: canning, sewing, cooking, housekeeping, and gardening. The first dish she mastered was Polish: a sweet cabbage pierogi. She also began acting as a hostess at an early age when she organized birthday parties for neighborhood children, supplementing her babysitting money while still in grammar school. She began modeling at 15, when she was featured in ads for Unilever and the tobacco company, Tareyto. Her modeling career helped to offset the cost of her college education, as she brought in about $50 an hour. One summer, she modeled for Chanel. In 1963, despite her intial interest in studying chemistry, she received a BA in European History and Architectural History. Prior to graduating, she married a law student, Andrew Stewart during her sophomore year in 1961.

Martha Stewart Worked On Wall Street, But Left It Behind

The house where she would begin her empire. Source: (Marthastewart.com)

After graduating, she worked as a stockbroker from 1965-1972, although she did briefly consider becoming an architect. She left Wall Street because, as she has said "I liked the sales part of it, the human contact, but I wanted to sell things that were fun and stocks weren't anymore." After leaving her job, which at one point brought in as much as $135,000 a year, she and her family moved to Westport, Connecticut. In Westport, she worked on restoring Turkey Hill, a Federal style farmhouse. She continued to develop her skills as she gardened, decorated, and completed the restoration.  

Cooking Her Way Into Success, In Her Iconic Kitchen

In her kitchen at the beginning of her career. Source: (Pinterest).

"I think baking cookies is equal to Queen Victoria running an empire. There's no difference in how seriously you take the job, how seriously you approach your whole life."

She had refined her cooking by studying Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and studying European cuisine while modeling there in the 1960s. She also spoke to chefs in New York City’s top restaurants when she entertained clients. In 1976, she started a catering business with a partner, Norma Collier, cooking out of the kitchen which she had designed in her farmhouse. Her catering business became known for her gourmet foods and presentation. Within a decade, Martha Stewart Inc. had become a million-dollar business. She also became the food and entertainment editor for The New York Times. In 1980, the president of Crown books approached her at a party and asked her to write a book for their lifestyle imprint, Clarkson Potter. And so, in 1982, she released her first book, Entertaining. This bestseller was followed by more cookbooks, Martha Stewart’s Christmas, and Martha Stewart’s Wedding Planner. She also started a magazine, Martha Stewart Living and created syndicated television shows. 

Martha Stewart's Kitchen Advice Is Really Life Advice

Source: (Guest of a Guest)

"So the pie isn't perfect? Cut it into wedges. Stay in control, and never panic."

She has become the premier American homemaker, and even though her presentation makes it look difficult, but in reality, it is not as challenging as it appears. As Stewart has said about her entertaining, "people can take the recipes, the ideas, and use them every day, because what I'm giving them is not a fantasy, but a reality that looks like a fantasy.” In fact, some of her favorites are pretty basic. Her favorite comfort food is scrambled eggs and she has said that she typically keeps her fridge stocked with dairy products and citrus fruits.  

Stewart Became America's First Self-Made Female Billionaire

With her ex-husband. Source: (noteabley.com)

Her work ethic led her to be the first female self-made billionaire and she reportedly sleeps about four hours a night, getting up before sunrise, as she is a workaholic. She may have built a successful business, but it strained her marriage. She was separated from her husband for three years, and they finally divorced in 1990. This was not her only trouble. After an insider trading scandal in 2002, she was indicted for securities fraud, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and making false statements to prosecutors and the FBI. When she was sentenced to five months in prison, she reportedly timed the sentence to start in November, ensuring she was out in time to plant in the spring. To pass the time in prison, she sculpted, creating an entire nativity set.  

Back From Jail And Better Than Ever

With Snoop Dogg. Source: (aarp.org)

Since completing her stint in jail, she has worked to rebuild her empire, and her workaholic nature has driven her into a number of ventures. She has released a number of products under her name, from crafts to wine, appeared on Law and Order SVU, and Ugly Betty, released new books, and continued to have television shows, including a show with Snoop Dogg on VH1, called Martha and Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party. After all, as she has said “the more you adapt, the more interesting you are."

Tags: Martha Stewart | Television | What Did She Do?...

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Cyn Felthousen-Post

Writer

Cyn loves history, music, Irish dancing, college football and nature. Social media is also her thing, keeping up with trends and celebrities with positive news. She can be found outside walking or hiking with her son when she's not working. Carpe diem is her fave quote, get out there and seize the day!