Women Entrepreneurs From American History
On November 19, 2014, 144 countries around the world celebrated Women Entrepreneurs Day for the first time and started talking about women’s role in entrepreneurship, technology, and innovation.
The November 19, 2020 summit was significantly different from other years. Of course, the main theme was the pandemic, which “forced” us to rethink the past and the present at the same time and show the frames of the future on many issues clearly. One such picture from the future is our digitized everyday life: artificial intelligence and technology. However, before all of this, there was a past … Let’s go back to the past, where women’s roles and opportunities in business and the proposed fields differed significantly from the present. Let’s try to arrange these women’s stories chronologically.
Centuries ago, when few stories of women involved in entrepreneurship were being written, perhaps no one could have imagined that the diversity and uniqueness of the business fields would one day be determined by our fantasies and innovative ideas.
Several records of the first female entrepreneurs can be found in the history of the United States. The areas of activity and interests of these women are different; Common high origins and financial resources, which, in the face of challenges for that period (such as low level of education, less involvement of women in economic activities, gender stereotypes, lack of property, etc.), still made it possible to turn their ideas a reality.
The year 1739 marks the date of the death of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, a botanist farmer who began mass-growing indigo in South Carolina and exporting it after the death of her parents. Eliza graduated from a school in London and was particularly interested in botany. She realized that new colors would soon be needed for the growing textile industry, so she planted indigo (Indigofera tinctoria) and used it to make dark blue dyes.
References to women engaged in agricultural activities are still found in the 18th century. Some of them owned small plots of land and sold agricultural products, some of which were involved in educational activities, bringing Mary Katherine Goddard to the publishing business in 1766. She became America’s first female publisher and, in 1775, became the first female postmaster. The culmination of Mary Katherine Goddard’s work is creating the second copy of the United States Declaration of Independence. She continued to publish for the rest of her life, printing and selling books, employing women living in Baltimore, and giving their children education.
There are many stories of women entrepreneurs in the medical field. For example, Lydia Pinkham established Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound in Massachusetts in 1875, selling herbal ointments and disseminating health knowledge. Starting a business was even more problematic for black women at that time. They had to deal with racism and gender stereotypes simultaneously. All of this doesn’t scare one of the famous figures of the 20th century, Madame C.J Walker, who started the hair care business.
The black woman, who was the daughter of a former slave, started her own company out of nothing in 1905 and became one of the world’s most famous women entrepreneurs. She started producing hair loss protection and hair growth products. She was interested in exploring the scalp. The entrepreneur soon crossed the American continent and established active communication with women both in America and other parts of the world. She was the organizer of the first Women Entrepreneurs Meeting in Philadelphia in 1917 and had been actively helping African women entrepreneurs throughout her life.
In the early twentieth century, when many new companies were set up in New York and soon went bankrupt due to competition, 30-year-old chemist Elizabeth Arden started a small cosmetics business. She was making facial skin creams, which was a new word for the cosmetics industry. In 1912, after a trip to Paris, she introduced American women to the European experience of eye makeup for the first time and opened a salon. At the same time, the cosmetics industry around the world was led by female entrepreneurs, and in 1910, with the opening of a hat shop for women in a small town in France, a new era began in the fashion industry.
Meanwhile, in the US, female entrepreneurs have become particularly popular in the fashion industry and the design of furniture, kitchenware, and wares. Ruth Handler’s desire to earn a living led to creating the familiar Barbie doll (her daughter’s name) (1959), and Lillian Vernon to the opening of a wedding, holiday decorations, postage, and greeting card company. By 1970, the company (Lillian Vernon Corp.) had sales of $ 1 million, and today its stock is valued at $ 15.8 million.
Engineering became another inspiration for women in the 1930s, when the Great Depression began, with Olive Ann Beech hiring 10 people in Kansas to start building a new mini-plane type. The number of employees soon increased to 10 thousand, and the airline Beech Aircraft was formed. Olivia Ann Beech often said in various interviews that she and her 10 employees were confident in their own success from the very first days.
If you ever meet Debbie Fields Rose, the owner of one of the most popular candy stores in California (Mrs, Fields Chocolate Chippery), she will probably tell you that more than doing business, she wanted to share a variety of sweets recipes with her street residents. This idea of the sisters started with the opening of a small shop in the city of Palo Alto (1977). Today, the store is a holding company, and the sisters’ desserts are among the best recipes in America. Sister Fields Ross now lives in Florida and shares experiences with other women.
The timeline that follows the story of the women involved in the business can accommodate many more women entrepreneurs’ stories beyond the names and surnames mentioned above. These are stories of success and failure and new ideas that have been implemented or have remained unfulfilled.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, women’s business involvement depended largely on their parents, spouses, and male family members. Changes in social norms and the improvement of women’s legal status in the 20th century further highlighted the opportunities for women. They established entirely new industries or facilitated the active economic involvement of women in already familiar fields. Of course, there are many obstacles behind these stories, which in some cases even became a source of inspiration for them. For example, World War II is considered a turning point in this direction. When economic problems arose during the war and men were involved in hostilities, women began to implement their own business ideas. We also have interesting statistics, according to which, from 1940 to 1945 the number of female entrepreneurs increased by 10%, some of them tried new activities for women, some of them took the position of husbands and started to manage themselves.
By 1972, the number of women entrepreneurs in the United States was 400,000, these women needed loans to mobilize financial resources, and they could not get a loan without the permission of their fathers, husbands, and children. The reality has changed today – in 2019, the number of women entrepreneurs in the US increased to 13 million.