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Enterprising Women: 250 Years of American Business
     

Enterprising Women: 250 Years of American Business

by Virginia G. Drachman
 

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Enterprising Women: 250 Years of American Business

Overview

Enterprising Women: 250 Years of American Business

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A wonderfully readable and engaging book that draws on an astonishing range of sources. Filled with the stories of women who presided over 'traditionally feminine' enterprises and those who challenged gender stereotypes, it places these entrepreneurs in the larger history of women in business and the history of American economic development. (Wendy Gamber, author of The Female Economy: The Millinery and Dressmaking Trades, 1860-1930)"

"What an inspiring collection of stories this is. Enterprising Women exquisitely portrays the lives of dozens of women who leaped barriers of family, money, and traditional expectation to build the American economy and to make their own fortunes as well. I am moved and enlightened by this elegantly written and illustrated tale of success. (Alice Kessler-Harris, author of In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th-Century America)"

"I truly enjoyed the book! It's so important that women read about successful female-owned and run businesses. Our possibilities are more apparent when our past successes are documented and shared. I have much hope that the current generation of women who will inherit the freedom created by the pioneering efforts of the women described will assist in the actualization of their potential as businesswomen and human beings. (Roxanne Quimby, CEO and co-founder of Burt's Bees)"

"What a gift Virginia Drachman has bestowed by telling the story of women entrepreneurs and innovators in the way it should have been told all along. I learned so much! (A'Lelia Bundles, author of On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker)"

Inspiring and long overdue. (Booklist)

KLIATT
Drachman's well-ordered summary of major female accomplishments in the realm of business is a valuable addition to the reference shelf. Without over-dramatizing women's struggle for rights to education, inheritance, and ownership, Drachman states the facts in a number of stirring examples of entrepreneurship, such as Brownie Wise's invention of the Tupperware party and Lydia Pinkham's natural compounds for women. The text notes that Polly Bemis, a Chinese-American innkeeper, was a slave who acquired citizenship and property. Midwife and investor Juana Briones overcame marriage to an alcoholic and operated an impressive California ranch, all without benefit of literacy. Widow Rose Knox turned gelatin into a culinary staple while liberalizing the manager-employee relationship. Enhancing appreciation of female zeal for business are line drawings of indigo production, fashion plates, ads for Maidenform bras, and a color photo of Julia Morgan's architectural accomplishment at the Hearst Castle. The narrative honors women from a range of cultural backgrounds, including Native American potter Maria Martinez, Jewish entrepreneurs Ida Rosenthal and Jennie Grossinger, and cosmetics inventor Madame C. J. Walker, an African American. Librarians and teachers will find multiple uses for this volume. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Univ. of North Carolina Press, 184p. illus. notes. bibliog. index., Ages 15 to adult.
—Mary Ellen Snodgrass
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-A companion to the museum exhibition of the same name, this book features women who had what it took to succeed despite the less-than-inviting attitudes of their times. Subjects include Mary Katharine Goddard, publisher of the first signed copy of the Declaration of Independence and owner of a print shop; Madam C. J. Walker, creator of hair-care products; Julia Morgan, architect and designer of Hearst Castle; and Hazel Bishop, creator of "kissable lipstick." The women's stories are set within the context of their eras and milieus. The text is liberally illustrated with photographs and document facsimiles. While this title may not provide complete biographical information on any one individual, it complements other sources and is entertaining reading.-Peggy Bercher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807854297
Publisher:
The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
02/28/2005
Edition description:
1
Pages:
208
Product dimensions:
9.00(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Enterprising Women

250 Years of American Business
By Virginia G. Drachman

University of North Carolina Press

Copyright © 2002 President and Fellows of Harvard College
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0807827622


Chapter One

Introducing Enterprising Women

Meet Katherine Goddard, publisher of the first signed copy of the Declaration of Independence and owner of a print shop, and Katharine Graham, publisher of the Pentagon Papers and owner of the Washington Post Company; meet Madam C. J. Walker, whose hair-care products brought her from her slave parents' dilapidated cabin to her own Hudson River estate down the road from the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts; meet Lane Bryant, whose maternity fashions freed expectant mothers from the restrictions of confinement while liberating Bryant from the oppression of the New York City sweatshops; and meet Hazel Bishop, whose "kissable" lipstick left an indelible mark on the cosmetics industry while her place in her company disappeared.

These are but a few of the women whose lives unfold in this history of enterprising women in America. Their stories span two hundred and fifty years of American history, from the birth of a new nation to the dawn of the twenty-first century. They are from different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups; they come from every region of the country; their businesses range from iron production to dresspatterns, from pyrotechnics to cosmetics. They are indeed a diverse group, and they mirror the evolution of that diversity in America. Both African American women and Jewish immigrant women were minorities among women entrepreneurs at the end of the nineteenth century and made significant headway in the early decades of the twentieth. Yet, while Jewish women entrepreneurs were part of the mainstream by the middle of the twentieth century, African American women entrepreneurs remained a minority, having lost significant ground due to the Jim Crow laws that redefined race relations for the first half of the twentieth century. Latinas and Asian Americans emerged as new minorities among women business owners in the latter part of the twentieth century.

While the women entrepreneurs featured here are different in many ways, they share several important features. They all believed in the possibilities and opportunities of American capitalism and set out to reap its rewards for themselves. They all owned their business ventures, whether inherited or built from scratch. And they were all successful, at least for a while. They are part of an impressive roster of women entrepreneurs whose ventures have left their mark on two hundred and fifty years of American business and life. But behind them are hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, of lesser-known women business owners who have achieved different degrees of success. Measured against the entire community of women business owners, most of the women included here are exceptional. They earned sizable fortunes and widespread public recognition for their day. They take their place among the notable women in American history who made it in the public sphere when measured by men's standards of success.

Yet, a focus on these women reveals much more than the fact of their achievements. It reveals the hard truth that even the most successful women entrepreneurs faced severe restrictions and limitations. Simply put, the stories of these successful women entrepreneurs reveal at once the opportunities and the limits of success for enterprising women. As exceptional as they were, these enterprising women shared much in common with the millions of less successful women business owners in American history. They enjoyed the independence of ownership and understood the simple truth that entrepreneurship, not just a job in the workplace, was the route to economic freedom and independence for women. At the same time, they faced the same challenges-legal and institutional discrimination, cultural restrictions, and the burdens of work and family-that confronted all women entrepreneurs, indeed all women who have strived for a meaningful career beyond the home. From this perspective, the stories of these enterprising women are the stories of America's women.

This history spans the transformation of the nation from an agricultural economy that linked work and family in the eighteenth century; to an industrial economy in the nineteenth century that separated work from family and defined the home as woman's proper place; to the rise of great corporations, modern business institutions, and the modern woman in the early twentieth century; to the rapid expansion of high technology and new opportunities for women at the end of the twentieth century. Women entrepreneurs were present at every stage of this growth and change. They linked the struggle for political independence to the country's economic independence in the eighteenth century; they fused their own quest for political and economic independence, helped the Union war effort, and spearheaded social reform, especially for women and children, in the nineteenth century; drawn by the promise of opportunity, they immigrated to the nation's cities with dreams of economic and social mobility in the early twentieth century; they participated in the creation of a consumer culture, building unique businesses for women, children, and families throughout the twentieth century; and they incorporated the values of gender equality, meritocracy, and cultural diversity into their businesses in the late twentieth century.

This consideration of enterprising women reveals a powerful story. It is intended to be neither general history nor one that compares female and male business owners. Instead, it presents women entrepreneurs on their own terms. Of course, enterprising women shared certain fundamental experiences with their male counterparts. What is of interest here, however, is the story of women who understood the value of a good idea, found the capital to finance it, assembled the team to implement it, launched the advertising campaign to market it, and ultimately built a profitable enterprise. It is a story of women who negotiated with suppliers, sellers, and employees, who targeted and cultivated their clientele, who kept up with the latest trends, and who were firmly planted in the world of business and finance. It is a story of women who believed in the power of individualism, ingenuity, and hard work; who were motivated by the promise of economic opportunity and upward mobility; who were willing to take a risk; and who believed that success is possible for anyone with creativity, ambition, courage, and commitment. It is a story of the possibilities and the limits of the American dream. It is America's story.

Still, enterprising women shared experiences that distinguished them from their male counterparts. For one, sexual discrimination was a persistent theme in their history. Even as they embraced the belief in equality of opportunity, they encountered obstacles that restricted their chances for success. Eighteenth-century women had no legal right to own property; nineteenth-century women could not vote; early-twentieth-century women were excluded from elite business schools and large corporations that redefined modern business; women in the last quarter of the century were unwelcome at bars or on golf courses, the venues where businessmen socialized, networked, and often arranged big deals; and women today receive little venture capital and continue to collide with the glass ceiling.

Second, a history of enterprising women is a story of family ties, marriage, and motherhood. For women entrepreneurs, public and private life has always been inextricably linked; business ventures occurred in relationship to, not independent of, roles as daughters, wives, widows, and mothers. Sometimes daughters got their start from supportive parents. Sometimes daughters left the shelter of the family and found new opportunities in marriage. Marriage shaped the lives of most. It made business easier for some, like Myra Bradwell and Ida Rosenthal, who started ventures with their husbands; it intruded on others, like Madam C. J. Walker and Elizabeth Arden, who divorced their husbands and continued their businesses. And it shielded others, like Rebecca Lukens and Katharine Graham, within the circle of domesticity until widowhood thrust them into ownership of their husbands' businesses. And for the few who remained single, like Katherine Goddard, business was still tightly tied to their position in the family as daughter and sister.

Third, the persistence of traditional ideas about femininity and woman's proper place forces the woman entrepreneur to straddle two worlds. As a woman, her "place" was at home, as caretaker of the family. But as an entrepreneur, she belonged outside the home, the builder of a business. As a woman, she was dependent upon her husband for financial security; as an entrepreneur she stood on her own. As a woman, she had to protect her family's emotional needs; as an entrepreneur she had to be rational and ready to take risks. As a woman she had to be nurturing and self-sacrificing, placing the needs of others before her own; as an entrepreneur, she had to be independent and acquisitive, seeking profits for herself.

These conflicting roles created a unique and enduring dilemma: how to be at once a woman and an entrepreneur. Sometimes women entrepreneurs took a unique interest in the welfare of their employees. But not always. Bradwell rejected the collective demands of her printers, as did Graham a century later. This did not mean that they were insensitive, dispassionate women, but it did make them successful businesspeople. Ultimately, the same gender roles that supposedly made a woman unfit for a life of competition and capital actually prepared her for a life in business. Over the generations, women long understood that their duties in the home-that is, keeping detailed account books, balancing the family budget, negotiating conflict, and managing myriad household tasks-provided them with excellent training for business. Paradoxically, femininity and domesticity have simultaneously excluded and prepared women for entrepreneurship.

Despite the challenges they faced, women entrepreneurs often made it in the competitive world of business. Some succeeded in typically male arenas of enterprise. In doing so, they contributed to major historic developments of their day. Rebecca Luken's iron mill produced steel for ships and trains during the transportation revolution in the early nineteenth century; Martha Coston's pyrotechnics firm produced maritime technology that was indispensable to the Union navy during the Civil War; Olive Beech's aircraft company built military airplanes for World War II and the Korean War. What connects these women of different eras and diverse industries is an accident of their private lives: widowhood transformed them from wives to entrepreneurs. They were not alone. Rose Knox artfully managed her husband's gelatin business after he died, while Marjorie Merriweather Post inherited her father's Postum Cereal Company and expanded it into General Foods Corporation. Their access to business uncovers a pattern: women who owned traditionally male businesses often inherited rather than initiated their enterprises, at least until the turn of the twenty-first century.

Throughout American history, women entrepreneurs were excluded from the nation's largest and most powerful industries, such as oil, steel, railroads, and automobiles. When women launched enterprises, on their own or with a husband, they typically created businesses geared specifically to women. It was a successful and familiar strategy for women who sought to enter male-dominated careers. Women doctors carved out professional space by claiming the health of women and children as their "womanly responsibility"; women lawyers rejected the acrimony and publicity of the courtroom but claimed office work, with its reliance on the housewifery skills of organization, detail, and compromise, as their province. Similarly, women entrepreneurs capitalized on their understanding of women's needs and desires and carved out a niche that reached the hearts and pocketbooks of the female consumer. In the middle of the nineteenth century, Ellen Demorest sold paper dress patterns just as the sewing machine became an indispensable item in middle-class homes, while Lydia Pinkham sold herbal medicines that promised women relief from gynecological ailments that contemporary doctors could not provide.

In the twentieth century, this female niche exploded into a separate and thriving area of women's business as fashion and beauty became important consumer industries. Ida Rosenthal sold bras that promised women comfort and health, and Hattie Carnegie sold elegant suits and dresses to fashionable women willing to pay a high price for high fashion. Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein created cosmetic companies that turned women's beauty into big business. Meanwhile, African American entrepreneurs like Madam C. J. Walker, Sara Spencer Washington, and Annie Turnbo Malone carved out a corner of women's business, selling specially concocted hair and beauty products to women of their race. Other women entrepreneurs, including Isabella Greenway and Jennie Grosinger, established resorts that sold leisure to couples and families. Together, these enterprising women reveal that women were not simply consumers in the new consumer and leisure economy of the twentieth century; rather, they took their place alongside men and played an important role in the creation of that economy.

Enterprising women cultivated and expanded the separate sphere of women's consumer business throughout the twentieth century. Some took women's passion for beauty in new business directions: Patricia Stevens started modeling agencies and schools; Jean Nidetch succeeded with Weight Watchers. Other found inspiration in their kitchens and created popular food companies, like Joyce Chen's Chinese restaurants and foods and Margaret Rudkin's Pepperidge Farms bakeries. Lillian Vernon sat at her kitchen table and began a mail-order catalogue business that catered to women's desire to shop at home. Martha Stewart moved well beyond the confines of the kitchen to claim every corner of the home as her domain and made a fortune transforming domesticity into a thriving and lucrative lifestyle industry. Similarly, Oprah Winfrey took women's entrepreneurs' long-held commitment to social reform and self-improvement to new heights, marketing her television show, magazine, and book club to an audience in search of a better world and a better self. Perched at the absolute pinnacle of entrepreneurial success, and know to all simply as Martha and Oprah, they are beacons for women's businesses, proof that enterprising women are here to stay.

Back in the 1920s when President Calvin Coolidge declared that "the chief business of the American people is business," he was not thinking about women.

Continues...


Excerpted from Enterprising Women by Virginia G. Drachman Copyright © 2002 by President and Fellows of Harvard College
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
A wonderfully readable and engaging book that draws on an astonishing range of sources. Filled with the stories of women who presided over 'traditionally feminine' enterprises and those who challenged gender stereotypes, it places these entrepreneurs in the larger history of women in business and the history of American economic development.—Wendy Gamber, Indiana University

A remarkable history of women who created businesses or inherited and ran them. . . . Rescue[s] from oblivion some notable examples from among the legions of entrepreneurial American women.—Choice

What a different world this might now be had American historians always written as completely and inclusively about women's pivotal contributions to the development of our nation's commerce. What a gift Virginia Drachman has bestowed by telling the story of women entrepreneurs and innovators in the way it should have been told all along. I learned so much!—A'Lelia Bundles, author of On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker

Inspiring and long overdue.—Booklist

What an inspiring collection of stories this is. Enterprising Women exquisitely portrays the lives of dozens of women who leaped barriers of family, money, and traditional expectation to build the American economy and to make their own fortunes as well. I am moved and enlightened by this elegantly written and illustrated tale of success.—Alice Kessler-Harris, author of In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th-Century America

I truly enjoyed the book! It's so important that women read about successful female-owned and run businesses. Our possibilities are more apparent when our past successes are documented and shared. I have much hope that the current generation of women who will inherit the freedom created by the pioneering efforts of the women described will assist in the actualization of their potential as businesswomen and human beings.—Roxanne Quimby, CEO and co-founder of Burt's Bees

Drachman's well-ordered summary of major female accomplishments in the realm of business is a valuable addition to the reference shelf.—Kliatt

Enterprising Women is a companion publication to a national exhibition, but it also stands on its own. The individual narratives are engaging, and together they communicate to the reader the astonishing range of pursuits in which women from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds were engaged.—New York History

A valuable contribution to scholarship. . . . [and] demonstrates the achievements of the new field of gender and business history." —Business History

Meet the Author

Virginia G. Drachman is Arthur Jr. and Lenore Stern Professor of American History at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. She is author, most recently, of Sisters in Law: Women Lawyers in Modern American History.

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