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How Oprah Winfrey Gained Her Character

by Ron Kurtus (7 October 2012)

Oprah Winfrey is a renowned television talk-show host, media proprietor, and philanthropist. Her personal character traits include being hard-working, courageous, and conscientious. Her social character traits include being considerate, caring, and helpful.

However, at one time in her life, she did not have very good character. Lessons learned from her grandmother and father helped to shape her present character. Later experiences also added to her character.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.

Lessons from grandmother

Oprah was born to an unwed teenage mother in Mississippi. Her mother left Oprah with her grandmother, while she looked for work in the North.

Oprah lived on her grandmother's rundown farm until she was six years old. During that time, her grandmother taught her to read, such that at age three Oprah was reciting poems and Bible verses in the local church. Despite the hardships on the farm, Oprah enjoyed the loving support of her grandmother and the church community. They cherished her as a gifted child.

This was a good start for the development of Oprah's positive character traits.

Lessons from mother and relatives

But then, at age six, Oprah's world changed for the worse. She was sent to live with her mother, who had found work as a housemaid in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They lived in an inner city apartment that was not a good environment.

When she was nine-years old, while her mother was working, Oprah was repeatedly molested by her uncle and other male relatives. This abuse was emotionally devastating and lasted until Oprah was 13. She tried to run away and was sent to a juvenile detention home. At age 14, she left home and was on her own. By her own account, Oprah was sexually promiscuous as a teenager.

During this period, Oprah had learned to have poor moral character and to be a rebellious youth.

Lessons from father

After giving birth to a baby boy who died in infancy, she went to Nashville, Tennessee to live with her father, Vernon Winfrey.

Vernon was a strict disciplinarian, but he gave his daughter the secure home life she needed. He saw to it that she met a curfew, and he required her to read a book and write a book report each week. "As strict as he was," says Oprah, "he had some concerns about me making the best of my life and would not accept anything less than what he thought was my best."

In this structured environment, Oprah flourished, and became an honor student, winning prizes for oratory and dramatic recitation.

Once she was sent to live with her father, Oprah learned about the benefits of hard work, being conscientious, and acting in a positive way toward others. These character traits helped in her rise to fame.


Although Oprah Winfrey had a good start in her life with positive lessons from her grandmother, she then suffered a period of negative character lessons, primarily from her uncles, and partly from her mother. Lessons learned from her grandmother and father helped to shape her present character as a hardworking, conscientious, considerate, and caring person. Later experiences also added to her character when she became a philanthropist, forming organizations to help others in need.

Good guidance is important

Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials


Oprah Winfrey's Official Biography -

Oprah Winfrey - Wikipedia

Character Resources


Business Leaders and Success - Chapter on Oprah Winfrey

Oprah: A Biography by Kitty Kelley (2011)

O'Habits: 40 Success Habits of Oprah Winfrey and the One Bad Habit She Needs to Stop! by Warren Cassell (May 4, 2010)

Top-rated books on Oprah Winfrey

Top-rated books on Character

Students and researchers

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