Leaving Your Mark and Saluting Women Who Paved the Way


During Women’s History month, we are honoring women who made a difference. Below are stories of 10 women whom some would call the “mothers” of American business. Remarkable women who shaped our country’s business history beginning as early as the 1700s. Eliza Lucas Pinckney, 1722-1793 Charleston, SC Business: Agriculture

At 16 years old, Eliza Lucas Pinckney unintentionally became a businesswoman. After the death of her mother, Eliza ran her family’s three South Carolina plantations and cared for her younger siblings while her father, a British military officer, was stationed in the Caribbean. Her father sent a few indigo seeds from Antiqua and she planted them as an experiment.  Because of Eliza’s experiment and burgeoning business prowess, indigo became the second-largest crop in the state — South Carolina exported 134,000 pounds of indigo in 1748 — until the rise of cotton.

Mary Katherine Goddard, 1738-1816 Baltimore, MD Business: Journalism/Publishing

Mary Katherine Goddard got her start in publishing by working at her brother’s print shop in Rhode Island. She advanced quickly, publishing the weekly Providence Gazette,  followed by a stint in Philadelphia publishing the Pennsylvania Chronicle. In 1774, her brother’s printing business took her to yet another city –Baltimore – where she ran Baltimore’s first newspaper, The Maryland Journal. She was responsible for the first printed copy of the Declaration of Independence, and was the only printer in the city during the Revolutionary War.

Rebecca Pennock Lukens, 1794-1854 Brandywine Valley, PA Business: Iron and Steel

In 1825, the widow Rebecca Pennock Lukens was pregnant with her sixth child when she purchased the remaining interest in her late father’s struggling business, Brandywine Iron & Nail. Less than 10 years later, it was thriving under her leadership. Lukens successfully steered her company through the national financial crisis known as the “Panic of 1837.” More than 30 years after her death, Brandywine Iron & Nail became the publicly traded Lukens Iron & Steel, until it was purchased by Bethlehem Steel in 1998. In 1994, Fortune posthumously crowned Lukens “America’s first female CEO of an industrial company” and named her to the National Business Hall of Fame.

Bridget ‘Biddy’ Mason, 1818-1891 Los Angeles, CA Business: Real Estate

Born into slavery in Mississippi, Biddy Mason grew up to be a successful real estate developer and human-rights champion. A decade after winning freedom for herself and her three daughters, Biddy became one of the first black women to own land when she purchased commercial property in what is now the heart of downtown Los Angeles for $250. She turned her initial investment into a small real estate empire worth about $300,000 in 1884.

Jane Addams, 1860-1935 Chicago, IL Business: Nonprofits

Jane Addams founded Hull House, the first settlement house in the US as an educational and cultural community for immigrant women. This effort, along with other philanthropic efforts and social activism, earned her (along with Nicholas Murray Butler) a Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

Catherine Anselm ‘Kate’ Gleason, 1865-1933 Rochester, NY Business: Engineering/Banking/Construction

At the age of 11, Kate Gleason began working for her father at the family machine-tool company Gleason Works. She coupled her interest in mechanical engineering and mechanical arts and helped design a revolutionary machine that efficiently and inexpensively produced beveled gears. She continued with the company for many years, expanding Gleason’s services internationally. Gleason temporarily became the first female president of the First National Bank of Rochester when its president joined the military during World War I. After the war, she invented a new method of pouring concrete, enabling low-cost concrete houses which became the model for suburban developments.

Elizabeth Arden, 1884-1966 New York, NY Business: Cosmetics

Florence Nightingale Graham changed her name, and the future of beauty. She started as a shop assistant, then a partner in a beauty salon before opening her first salon in 1909 under the name Elizabeth Arden.  Arden delved into chemistry, designing, developing and manufacturing her own beauty products. In 1914 she incorporated and expanded internationally with a salon opening in France in 1922. There are now Elizabeth Arden Red Door spas throughout the U.S., Europe, Australia and South America.

Mary Kay Ash, 1918-2001 Hot Wells, TX Business: Cosmetics/Direct Sales

Following a few rocky positions, and a failed advice book, Mary Kay Ash developed a business plan that then morphed into Mary Kay Cosmetics. At the age of 63, with $5,000 in seed money and the help of her son Richard, Ash started her new business with the intent to empower women and make their lives more beautiful. Her direct-sales cosmetics company grew into a multimillion-dollar conglomerate with nearly 2 million independent beauty consultants across the globe.

Katharine Meyer Graham, 1917-2001 Washington, D.C. Business: Mass Media

Katharine Meyer Graham’s involvement with The Washington Post has had many twists and turns.  In 1933, her multimillionaire father purchased The Washington Post at a bankruptcy auction. Graham began working for the Post in the late 1930s and married Philip Graham in 1940. When her father died, he bequeathed the Post to his son-in-law Phillip. But Phillip was plagued with personal problems and committed suicide in 1963. Graham gained leadership and chaired the board of directors from 1973 through 1991. Under her leadership, the Post received a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its coverage of Watergate.

Juanita Morris Kreps, 1921-2010 Durham, NC Business: Economics

Growing up during the Depression, Juanita Morris Kreps advocated for flexible work schedules, public preschools and equal pay. She was the first woman U.S. Secretary of Commerce — only the fourth woman in history to hold a Cabinet position.  Krebs served as a director at the New York Stock Exchange, Eastman Kodak and J.C. Penney. Combining her business expertise and passion for the advancement of professional women, Krebs wrote the influential 1971 book, Sex in the Marketplace: American Women at Work, as well as a study called Sex, Age, and Work: The Changing Composition of the Labor Force.

After reading about these amazing women, how will you leave your mark? Check out the chapter Keeping Your Passion Front and Center in my book, Show Up. Step Up. Step Out., for practical strategies to help you get the results you want. http://amzn.to/1f9Gqu7