March is Women’s History Month. Women entrepreneurs have had a rich and varied history in the United States. We have had a strong and substantial impact on our economy. Our innovations, inspirations and accomplishments must be told.
Female entrepreneurs in Colonial America had varied occupations but both Colonial white and free black women worked to support families, often with husbands or as a result of widowhood. Some, including Mary Katherine Goddard and Eleanor Eldridge, were recognized for their ventures.
Mary Katherine Goddard (circa 1750s) printed one of nine copies of the Declaration of Independence. After taking over the heavily indebted press owned by her brother in 1777, she was commissioned to publish the Declaration and at the bottom, “signed the document: “Baltimore, in Maryland: Printed by Mary Katharine Goddard.”
Elleanor Eldridge (1784-1845) whose family was brought to the United States as part of the slave trade and gained their freedom in the Revolutionary War, owned several businesses including weaving, soap making, whitewashing, and painting. Her legacy is established in her autobiography “Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge.” The book is one of few narratives of the lives of free blacks in the 1800s. (https://aaregistry.org/story/elleanor-eldridge-businesswoman-amid-oppression/).
In the late 1800s to early 1900s, women entrepreneurs created a variety of endeavors. Social entrepreneurs included Jane Adams, Hull House; Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune Cookman College; Juliette Gordon Low, American Girl Scouts; and Florence Nightingale, nursing school. Visionaries such as Maggie Lena Walker, founder of St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in Richmond in 1903; Henrietta Mirassou, the first woman to singlehandedly run a winery and vineyard in California; and Lydia Pinkham, who patented home remedies (which contained high levels of alcohol) for women’s illnesses, created ventures in the midst of the depression.
Margaret Rudkin founded Pepperidge Farm while Helena Rubenstein, Florence Graham (Elizabeth Arden), Flori Roberts, Mary Kay Ash and Estee Lauder founded beauty care product companies after the Second World War. Todays entrepreneurs such as Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart and Maria deLourdes Sobrino continue in the tradition of women business owners recognizing problems, analyzing challenges, determining opportunities, leveraging resources and creating successful ventures.
In 2017, American Express commissioned a study on Women Business Owners and found, “As of January 2017, there are an estimated 11.6 million (11,615,600) women-owned businesses in the United States that employ nearly 9 million (8,985,200) people and generate more than $1.7 trillion ($1,663,991,700,000) in revenues. Over the past 20 years (1997–2017), the number of women-owned businesses has grown 114% compared to the overall national growth rate of 44% for all businesses. Women-owned businesses now account for 39% of all U.S. firms, employ 8% of the total private sector workforce and contribute 4.2% of total business revenues. The combination of women-owned businesses and firms equally-owned by men and women account for 47% of all businesses. These firms employ 14% of the workforce and generate 7% of revenues.”
Celebrate these individuals — and many others — who were innovative, believed in their dreams and had the determination to make things happen. These entrepreneurs, catalysts for change, opportunity and growth, keepers of the American Dream, its ingenuity and promise, are people we know. They are us. The question is, are you ready to join them?