The moving story of Judith and Joyce Scott will make you believe in twin magic.
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A&E Born This Way

Twin sisters Judith and Joyce Scott's life story sounds straight out of a movie.

It's a story with everything you'd imagine in an Oscar-winning movie: an idyllic childhood, heart-shattering loss, an emotional reunion followed by triumph, and resounding artistic acclaim. Above all, it's two sisters who loved each other beyond adversity and through everything. And it's 100% true.


Twin sisters Judith (right) and Joyce Scott as infants. All images via Joyce Scott, used with permission.

Joyce and Judith were born in Cincinnati in 1943. Judith had Down syndrome and Joyce did not. The sisters were loving and devoted to each other.

For the first seven years of their lives, they spent most of their days playing in a sandbox made just for the two of them. They slept in the same bed at night.

But their parents grew overwhelmed and desperate. They didn't know how to interact with Judith. Along with Down syndrome, she couldn't speak and had undiagnosed deafness. The medical community at the time knew very little about how to engage children with Down syndrome and recommended institutionalizing her. Her parents gave in.

At age 7, Judith was sent to live in a sanitarium. She remained there for the next 25 years.

During that time, her sister Joyce grew up. But she couldn't shake the memories of her sister.

By the time she was 25, Joyce had graduated from college, moved to California, and started work as a nurse specializing in care for children with developmental disabilities. She befriended the mother of one of her patients, joining her on silent meditation retreats. Five days into a six-day retreat, Joyce had an epiphany.

"I had this feeling that I was there with Judy and that our core was a central core that we shared. It was like someone turning on the light in a dark room. It became clear to me: ‘What on earth is she doing in an institution 2,000 miles away when she could be with us?'" Joyce told an interviewer last year.

Just like that, Joyce's life changed. She assumed guardianship of her sister and brought her home to California. Their family was finally whole again.

As the sisters adapted to their new life, Joyce learned about Creative Growth, an enrichment center for developmentally disabled adults.

Judith and Joyce Scott.

She began taking Judith there five days a week for painting and drawing classes, hoping something would spark her creativity.

For two years, nothing clicked. Then one day, a textile artist came to give a presentation. Judith was transfixed. She picked up two sticks and began slowly, methodically wrapping them in strips of fabric.

That wrapped bundle became her first sculpture. Over the next 18 years, she would create more than 200 more.

Judith's talent was rare and immediately apparent.

Her sculptures defy convention and definition. They're simple and intricate, colorful and muted, commanding and gentle.

The unifying feature of Judith's work is wrapped fabric. Her pieces range in size from tiny handheld sculptures that resemble dolls to huge installation pieces that cannot be moved without help. She wasn't particular about her medium, working with whatever items were around the Creative Growth studio.

Nor was there a particular rhythm to her process. She worked exactly as long as a piece took to finish — whether that was an hour, a day, a week, even a month.

An exhibition of Judith's work at a gallery in Brooklyn, New York.

Judith Scott had almost no interaction with her artworks once she finished them. The exception was when she saw them at her first art show. According to her sister, Judith wandered among the works and, one by one, kissed or hugged them. "There wasn't a dry eye in the house," recalls Joyce.

It didn't take long before people started to notice Judith's talent.

In 1999, Creative Growth held the first showing of Judith's work to coincide with the release of the first book about her. It drew worldwide attention, which meant more admirers and more books for Judith, along with documentaries and news articles.

Judith was both nonverbal and illiterate, with no way to share the inspiration behind her creations. Everything — even the names of the artworks themselves — is up to the viewer's interpretation.

"Judith's sculptures, objects, things are, to my mind, amongst the most important three-dimensional things made in the last century. There is no question or doubt about it."
Matthew Higgs, former director of exhibitions at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts

Critics have tried to define Judith's art, calling it "outsider art" or "brutalist." But her art stands on its own out of necessity. She told her story through wrapped objects and knotted fabric, rather than words and sentences.

In 2005, one evening after dinner, Judith passed away peacefully in her sister's arms. For the past 11 years, Joyce has continued to tell her story.

In addition to her work helping other artists with disabilities around the world, Joyce has joined exhibitions of Judith's work and written a book about their life together.

Many people credit Joyce with transforming her sister's life, but she disagrees. Judith, she says, was her guardian and caretaker, not the other way around.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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