Katharine Hepburn

Strong, Audacious Women

Born on May 12, 1907, in Hartford, Connecticut, Katharine Hepburn became an unlikely Hollywood star in the 1930s with her beauty, wit, and the eccentric strength with which she imbued each character in a career that lasted five decades.


"If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased."

Actress. Katharine Houghton Hepburn was born in Hartford, Connecticut to Katharine Martha Houghton, a suffrage activist, and Dr. Thomas Norval Hepburn, a urologist who sought to educate the public about the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. A liberal-minded family, the Hepburns encouraged young Katharine to speak out, sharpen her mind and engage with the world as fully as possible. The Hepburns' happy family life took a tragic turn to the worse in 1921, however, when Katharine made the horrifying discovery of her older brother Tom dead, hanging from the ceiling of his room. The loss of her beloved brother completely debilitated her. For years, she withdrew almost entirely those around her, for a time even adopting Tom's birthday (November 8) as her own.

Fortunately for filmgoers everywhere, Katharine Hepburn overcame this great tragedy of her childhood to become one of the most enduring legends of cinema history. Over the course of six decades in Hollywood, she earned twelve Academy Award nominations and won an unprecedented four Best Actress Oscars.

Becoming a Star

While attending the all-women's Bryn Mawr College outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Katharine Hepburn fell in love with acting. After graduating from school in 1928 with a degree in history, she spent the next several years acting for the stage in and around New York, appearing in productions both on and off Broadway. She got her big break into screen acting when an RKO Radio Pictures talent scout spotted her in a play and offered an audition for a role starring opposite John Barrymore in the 1932 film A Bill of Divorcement. Hepburn got the part and never looked back.

A Bill of Divorcement became a hit, and RKO offered Hepburn a lucrative long-term contract to make films for the studio. Hepburn won the first of her four Academy Awards just a year later, for her performance in Morning Glory, opposite Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Adolphe Menjou. Soon after, her performance as Jo in the hit big-screen adaptation of the beloved novel Little Women won her great acclaim. Hepburn won recognition throughout the world as a formidable on-screen presence with a fierce intelligence unique among actresses of her stature.

Strong, Audacious Women