Mama Matters

The History of Women in Business #BEPROUD

By Maz Halliday

Today, women around the world would never question their right to take out a business loan, own property, or even get a college degree. These basic rights, amongst so many others, were not easily bestowed upon us – they were fought for. In history, and as recent as 30-years ago, middle-class women were not allowed to handle money and even having a job was unheard of. You would need a man to co-sign your loan and becoming CEO of a company was out of the question.

Despite the challenges they faced daily, women rose to the occasion and made their mark throughout history with ingenious innovations & out-of-the-box business ventures.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the feminist movement finally began to make real progress in the female working climate. Before this time women only owned businesses out of financial desperation. These businesses mostly included brothels, taverns, and alehouses – not exactly desirable career choices, but the options were non-existent.

Image: Coco Chanel
Image: Ma Perkins
In 1932, Olive Ann Beech and her husband Walter founded Beech Aircraft Company. Olive Ann ran the company from 1950 until her retirement in 1982.

The 1900s saw the rise of a new breed of the female entrepreneur. Coco Chanel, Olive Ann Beech, and Ma Perkins were a few powerful women who established their brands and fought with all their might for success in the face of discrimination. They were a force to be reckoned with, and to this day, these brands survive to tell the legacy of some of our earliest female entrepreneurs.

From 1940 to 1945 women entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers as male military enlistment in World War ll left gaps in the workforce. From sewing clothes to repairing planes – women did it all. Many continued their trades long after the war ended, refusing to step back into the roles society deemed suitable.

One of the most noteworthy female entrepreneurs from this time is Elizabeth Arden, the woman who single handedly established the American beauty industry in 1910. Her empire boomed after the war and still stands tall amongst the new-age beauty empires.

It is in the 1960s and ’70s the feminist movement finally broke down barriers for women in the workplace, leaving behind the idea that women had to be stay-at-home wives and mothers for society to accept them. Women earned legal rights and began branching out to more ambitious career paths.

From 1980 to 2000 we saw hundreds of women finally earning recognition as some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs. From Madonna to Martha Stewart and Oprah, businesswomen were finally in the spotlight. The world was beginning to recognize the incomparable power of women who were determined and brave enough to follow their dreams.

Women today are living the legacy of women’s rights that several generations of women before them dedicated their lives to achieve. Acting together women have increased their rights against all odds, non-violently, from an initial position of powerlessness.

Female business owners still face wage and gender discrimination, with fewer opportunities than their male counterparts. Still, we have a lot to be proud of in this heroic legacy – and a great deal to celebrate this Women’s Month.

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