It’s Women’s History Month! So, we figured it’s the perfect time to take a look at some of the most influential women entrepreneurs who changed the world and left a lasting legacy inspiring millions more women entrepreneurs for years to come.
In the early 1900s, a woman named Florence Nightingale Graham moved to New York City. The world would come to know her as Elizabeth Arden. After working as a bookkeeper for a pharmaceuticals company and spending hours in their lab studying skincare, she opened the Red Door salon at the age of 29 which spawned many more iconic locations and a line of successful products. After Arden’s passing in 1966, the company sold for $38 million dollars.
Sara Blakely was working as a door-to-door Saleswoman in Florida when she got the idea for Spanx. After spending hours in the Florida sun in panty hose, she knew she could do better. While there was extensive trial and error with R&D and making connections in North Carolina, Spanx officially launched in 2000. Since then, Sara has experienced a meteoric rise and sold the stake majority in 2021 staying on as the Executive Chairwoman. The company was then valued at 1.2 billion. To celebrate the milestone, Blakely gave each of her employees $10,000 and two first class plane tickets anywhere in the world.
A former enslaved woman born in 1800, Clara Brown gained her freedom at the age of 56. She settled in Colorado where she worked a variety of jobs. She made multiple real estate investments accumulating a good-sized fortune. For the remainder of her life, she used her money for good, founding a Sunday school, reuniting former slaves with their families, and helping them relocate to Colorado.
Born in Beijing in 1917, Joyce Chen is credited with popularizing Chinese food in America in the mid-twentieth century. Joyce left China just as the Communists were taking over and relocated to Massachusetts with her family where she opened several restaurants in Cambridge. Joyce privately published an influential cookbook, had her own cooking show, and invented and patented a flat bottom wok. Joyce Chen was commemorated with a USPS stamp in 2014.
Jean Nidetch’s career began in 1942 where she worked for a furniture company making $10 per week. Over the course of the next 10 years, she worked a wide range of jobs which developed skills that would eventually help her found Weight Watchers. Jean struggled with her weight her whole life and started a support group for overweight women. She incorporated the group in 1963 and eventually sold it for $71 million dollars in 1978.
Mary Ellen Pleasant
While the beginning of Mary Ellen Pleasant’s life has been debated amongst historians, her legacy as an entrepreneur and philanthropist is well known. Pleasant used her position as a servant in wealthy homes to eavesdrop, learning the best ways to invest and grow her money. She aimed to make money for the sole purpose of helping people, she ran boarding houses, laundries, and more, amassing a massive fortune. She worked to expand the underground railroad and bring it west, and was later known as the Mother of the California Civil Rights Movement.
Oprah Winfrey’s name is synonymous with success. By 19 she was a co-anchor for the local evening news and at 32 The Oprah Winfrey Show became a household name and still holds and iconic place in television history to this day. She’s been nominated for an Academy Award, has co-authored five books, publishes O, the Oprah Magazine, she’s the creator of OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network), and the first black woman billionaire. While she's not running her media empire, she's giving back in a variety of ways including hundreds of scholarships, The Oprah's Angel Network, and The Oprah Winfrey Leadership School for Girls in South Africa.
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