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American actor, dancer, writer and producer, Victoria Lynn Rowell (b. 1959), spent her entire childhood in the US foster care system. 

Victoria Rowell was born in Portland, Maine. Her mother, Dorothy, was a white woman who struggled with schizophrenia and left other children unattended at home when she gave birth. When Rowell was only sixteen days old, she and her older sisters  Sheree and Lori were taken into care.  

Rowell’s first placement was at the Holy Innocents Home in Portland, run by the Sisters of Mercy. Her first foster mother was a woman named Bertha Taylor. She wanted to adopt Rowell but was not allowed to because of her race. 

Rowell only met her biological mother three times before she died around 1985. She never knew her father, Rowell, who was African American. As a teenager, Rowell learned she shared her mother with three half brothers who had been raised by their fathers.

When Rowell was two-and-half years old, she and her sisters were was taken in by a Black couple, Agatha and Robert Armstead. She was never formally adopted but remained a Ward of the State. 

My foster mother was an amazing woman. She was a self-sufficient widow who had already raised ten of her own children. When she had the three of us, she was a senior citizen. She also ran a 60-acre farm (

Agatha encouraged Rowell to dance as a child. She studied at the Juilliard School of Music and Dance Extension Program. When she was nineteen, Rowell began dancing professionally with the American Ballet Theatre II Company in New York.

They told me to lose weight, tuck my hips under or stand taller on point. A black woman’s body was just unacceptable to them (

Rowell was denied roles as a ballerina because she was bi-racial. In 1983, she retired as a dancer and began working as a model. In 1985, she began pursuing acting as a career. 

Rowell’s first television role was on The Cosby Show in 1987. In 1990, Rowell joined the cast of the CBS daytime soap opera, The Young and the Restless. She played the role of Drucilla Winters, her signature and longest role on television, which she left in 2007.

Some of Rowell’s other television roles include Nella Franklina on As The World Turns, and Dr. Amanda Bently Livingston on Diagnosis Murder. Two of her film credits include The Distinguished Gentleman (1992) and Dumb and Dumber (1994).

Rowell has also started her own production company which produces films and TV Shows, including a soap opera about the soap opera business called “The Rich and The Ruthless,” with a largely black cast.

Rowell has two children. She had her daughter, Maya Fahey, with airline pilot and actor Tom Fahey. The couple divorced in 1990. In 2009, she married artist Radcliffe Baily, with whom she shares her son, Jasper Armstrong Marsalis. Rowell’s second marriage ended in 2014.

In 1990, Rowell founded the  Rowell Foster Children Positive Plan, a non-profit organisation which helps children in the foster care system. At a National Education Association event she hosted in 2017, Rowell said she advocates for children because “not everyone can withstand the heartbreak. Not everyone can survive the shame. Not everyone can withstand the extraordinary loss. People don’t think about the amount of loss foster kids endure (Long).

Rowell has devoted much of her adult life to advocating for care-experienced young people. She has served as chairperson of Foster Youth Connection, a Los-Angeles based service for young people aging out of care. She is an active supporter of the United Way, the Departments of Social Services in various states, and the Women’s Physical Abuse Center in Bermuda. She has also lobbied in Washington D. C. for the Child Welfare League of America.

In her memoir, The Women Who Raised Me (2007), Rowell describes her childhood as a Ward of the State and how this inspired her to become an activist and advocate for children in care.

The experience I had in the foster care system opened my eyes as I was witness to the sacrifice of people who were foster parents and extended family members of my foster family helping care for me and others…

The sacrifice of others spared me from living an impoverished life. It made me a fighter who stands up and speaks out. My experience as a foster youth has been a brilliant inheritance – intellectually, spiritually, socially. My experience through the women who primarily educated me taught me about social equality and effecting change (Long).

Rowell was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by the University of Southern Maine in recognition of her advocacy work for children in the foster care system. She has been nominated for three Daytime Emmy awards and has won eleven NAACP Image Awards.


“Rowell, Victoria (1959 – ).” Maine State Library.

“Rowell, Victoria 1962(?).” Encyclopedia.

“Victoria Rowell: ‘The Women Who Raised Me”, NPR, 25 May 2007.

Long, Cindy. “NEA Foundation Gala Host Victoria Rowell is a Voice for Children”, National Education Association, 13 Feb 2017.

Nkwantabisah, Belinda. “Remember actress Victoria Rowell? Where is She now, Brief Intro.” GH Gossip, 18 Mar 2023.

Routhier, Ray. “Actress-turned-producer Victoria Rowell credits life as foster child on Maine farm for her success.” Press Herald, 14 Apr 2019.

Image available here.