March is National Women’s History Month, and it’s a great time to stop and appreciate the many generations of hardworking women who contributed countless things to the business world and society at large. Here’s a look at some of the famous lady entrepreneurs that helped shape our world and pave the way for more successful women in the future!
Margaret Hardenbrook Philipse
Margaret Hardenbrook Philipse was a successful woman business owner living in New Amsterdam during the mid-1600s. Under Dutch law at the time, women were allowed to do business under their own name and maintain legal identity, which was rare for the 17th century. Margaret established a lucrative shipping and trading business, which shipped furs and other goods from New Amsterdam to the Netherlands. At one point she was considered to be the wealthiest woman in New Amsterdam.
Mary Katherine Goddard
Born in 1738, Mary Katherine Goddard was heavily involved in America’s early publishing business and postal system. She published a patriot journal called The Maryland Journal throughout the Revolutionary War, and in 1775 became the first female postmaster in the country, heading the Baltimore Post Office. She also ran a bookstore and independently published an almanac. In 1777, when the Declaration of Independence was decided to be available to the public, Goddard was one of the first publishers to offer the use of a printing press.
Under the name Madam C.J. Walker, Sarah Breedlove managed and developed hair products for African American women. She began her career by selling hair products, and throughout the years expanded her knowledge of business and marketing. In time, the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company was so successful that she had to start a mail-order service to keep up with demands. In 1917 she started the Walker Hair Culturists Union of America convention, which was the first national meeting of American women geared toward discussing business and commerce.
Clara and Lillian Westropp
These sisters from Cleveland, Ohio founded the first savings and loan program in the country to be run by women. Their company, Women's Savings & Loan, was started in 1922 with $89,000 in capital. It survived through the Great Depression and by 1950 was the second largest bank in the country. Charter One Financial acquired the company in 1992, but its effect on businesswomen in the financial world lives on today.
Dame Anita Roddick
Founder of the extremely successful company The Body Shop, Dame Anita Roddick opened her first store in 1976 in Brighton, England. She strove to set apart her business from other similar ventures by stressing the importance of social and environmental change. Her company was one of the first to prohibit use of ingredients tested on animals and to encourage fair trade agreements with third world countries.
According to the National Women’s History Museum, while women have always owned businesses “their increasing acceptance, prominence and movement into a vast assortment of enterprises” has made female “entrepreneurship more accessible and affordable.”
Particularly in the last 20 years, businesswomen have increased dramatically in their quantity and influence. According to a study done by Babson College, the amount of early-stage investment in companies with a woman on the executive team has tripled to 15 percent from 5 percent in the last 15 years.
In honor of the businesswomen of the past, let’s keep up the good work!