10 Iconic Women Who Prove “Cat Lady” Is a Compliment
This Women’s History Month, celebrate these cultural icons who took feline fanaticism from shameful to chic.
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Forget everything you may have heard about “cat ladies.” Yes, Grey Gardens’ Little Edie was a bit eccentric. And sure, The Simpsons’ Eleanor Abernathy did use her cats as weapons against neighborhood kids. But recent trends have converted feline fanaticism from being viewed as quirky to being totally chic. Brands like tuft + paw and Mau Pets now prove that you don’t have to sacrifice style for your cat, and celebrities like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry have brought proud cat parentship into pop culture.
The world may be late to appreciating it, but the “cat lady” aesthetic is far from new, and these icons prove it. Nurses, writers, activists, chefs — these historic women prove that being a cat lady has always been cool.
We’re kicking off our list with Catwoman herself (well, the third actress to play her). Kitt loved cats off screen, too and would take her black cat Jinx everywhere, including green rooms and backstage at live performances.
When the iconic actress was overwhelmed by the pressures of fame, she turned to cats. Later, she committed her off-screen life to paying it forward. Founded in 1986, the Brigitte Bardot Foundation is dedicated to the protection of animals.
The celebrity chef and her husband, Paul Child, adopted a cat, Minette, after falling in love with the cat-fanaticism of Parisian culture. Minette became Child’s close companion, joining her in the kitchen and at the dinner table. In Child’s own words, “A house without a cat is like a day without sunshine, a pie without fromage, a dinner without wine.”
The French photographer and painter was featured in one of Pablo Picasso’s paintings, “Dora Maar au Chat,” with a small cat on her shoulder. The painting is the sixth highest-selling Picasso piece of all time. She went on to make her own cat-inspired work, “Boy with a Cat,” a striking photograph taken as part of her series on the working class of Paris and London.
The novelist and screenwriter pioneered the use of the word “it” as a euphemism for confidence and magnetism (as in, having it), writing, “In the animal world ‘It’ demonstrates in tigers and cats — both animals being fascinating and mysterious, and quite unbiddable.” She had two fascinating and mysterious cats of her own, Candid and Zadig.
Jane Fonda has had multiple cats throughout her life, including a black cat named Snickers and a wild tuxedo cat named Shadow. The 85-year-old feminist and climate-change activist hasn’t let age stand in her way as she continues to lead and push for progress.
The writer/activist has long been an advocate for cat rescue. Tuscaloosa, a cat who came into Walker’s life soon after her divorce, would sit on her feet or lap while she wrote. She named another cat after Frida Kahlo in the hopes that “despite her horrendous kittenhood, she would, like Kahlo, develop into a being of courage, passion, and poise.” She favors feline misfits. She said about one snaggletoothed rescue: “A stranger might look at her and say, ‘Oh, she has imperfect teeth.’ But I look at her and see the absolute perfection — the charming perfection — of her imperfection.”
Blackie, the black cat who acted in the 1931 film Dishonored, was a stray who wandered onto the property of Animal Land, an establishment that raised animals for film productions. He became Marlene Dietrich’s pet after wooing her with his acting chops.
Catherine the Great
Russia’s longest-ruling woman leader was more than a little cat obsessed. She’d let her own Russian Blues roam the upper stairs of the palace, while the unpedigreed cats who worked catching mice in the basement were given official guard status — salary and all. When she gave Prince Gregory Potemkin a gift worth the equivalent of 40 million modern dollars, he gave her an Angora cat in return. She gave several of her own Russian Blues as gifts to ambassadors and royals, including the British royal family.
Wrapping up the list is the founder of modern nursing. Nightingale had over 60 cats throughout her life, sometimes caring for 17 at once. In her 1860 Notes on Nursing, Nightingale spoke to the medical benefits of cat parenthood, writing, “A small pet is often an excellent companion for the sick or long chronic cases, especially.”
Talking to the creator of Catlady, a collection of essays by inspiring women from Mara Altman to Emma Straub (plus honorary dog lover Aidy Bryant).
“We’re supposed to be quote-unquote scared of becoming a cat lady, but really what does that even mean? Being a strong independent person who loves cats? That sounds awesome.”
“I just simply like the idea of cats and their specific things. Throwing in a cat is something that comes naturally now when I make an illustration.”
From Swifty to Billie to Lil Nas X, these artists are loud and proud about their pet groupies.
Sio Hornbuckle is a writer living in New York City with their cat, Toni Collette.