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Women’s History Month: Five iconic female entrepreneurs

Youth Entrepreneurs exists to inspire a better future, empowering young people with the values and vision necessary to pursue their dreams. We’re celebrating five female entrepreneurs to close out Women’s History Month. These women overcame obstacles and seized opportunities for good. From national successes to community impact, their entrepreneurism blazed a trail for generations to come. Here are their stories. 


1. Mary Katherine Goddard, First Woman Publisher in America (1738 - 1816) 

Mary Katherine Goddard was an American printer, publisher and postmaster. Through her career, she achieved many “firsts.” At 24, she began her career as a printer in her brother’s print shop and became the first woman publisher in America. Among her achievements was the first published copy of the Declaration of Independence. In 1775, Mary Katherine became Baltimore’s first woman postmaster. She remained in this position for fourteen years until she was relieved of her duty because it was believed that the travel was too much for a woman. Mary Katherine petitioned to retain her position, and more than 200 Baltimore businessmen endorsed her. The petition was unsuccessful, but Mary Katherine’s passionate entrepreneurial spirit couldn’t be dampened. She maintained a Baltimore bookshop she founded for more than 20 years until her retirement. 


Clara_Barton_by_Mathew_Brady_1865.jpg2. Clara Barton, Founder of the American Red Cross (1821 - 1912) 

Clara Barton was a Civil War nurse and teacher who founded the American Red Cross. She began her career of service as a teacher at age 15. When the Civil War began, Clara was motivated by a personal responsibility and calling to the cause. She collected supplies for the army and went on serve as a nurse,  helping as many U.S. soldiers as she could. Following the war, Clara visited Europe and worked for the International Red Cross. Upon her return to the States, Clara founded the American Red Cross Society in 1881. She served as its first president, and lead the relief effort during the 1889 Johnstown Flood and the 1900 Galveston Flood. 

“I may be compelled to face danger, but never fear it, and while our soldiers can stand and fight, I can stand and feed and nurse them.” — Clara Barton 


Madame_CJ_Walker.gif3. Madam C.J. Walker, First American Woman Self-made Millionaire (1867 - 1919) 

Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, was an inventor, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. After suffering a scalp condition that resulted in hair loss, Madam C.J. seized the opportunity to create a line of African-American hair care products in 1905. Her line of hair-care products eventually became Madam C.J. Walker Laboratories, a trailblazing business that manufactured cosmetics and trained beauticians. Madam C.J. was passionate about training other black women to become entrepreneurs and financially independent. An avid philanthropist, Madam C.J. raised funds for her local YMCA and was deeply invested in her community. 

“Don’t sit down and wait for opportunities to come. Get up and make them.” — Madam C.J. Walker 


Elizabeth_Arden_NYWTS.jpg4. Elizabeth Arden, Founder of Elizabeth Arden, Inc. (1878 - 1966

Elizabeth Arden was a pioneer of the billion-dollar cosmetics industry that exists today. Born on  a farm, she worked odd jobs throughout childhood to support her family. In her early twenties, she moved to New York City where she opened her first salon and began selling her cosmetics internationally. Her target market knowledge fueled her strategy to market makeup to everyday women. Elizabeth was also a suffragette. In 1912, she marched with 15,000 women for equal rights . . . all wearing Elizabeth Arden lipstick. With hard work and dedication, Elizabeth created a successful international brand that is recognizable to this day. 

“Repetition makes reputation, and reputation makes customers.” — Elizabeth Arden 



5. Sara Blakely, Founder of Spanx (b. 1971) 

Sara Blakely is a businesswoman and founder of Spanx, a shapewear company. After a problem with a pair of white trousers, Sara channeled win-win focus to create a new product: pantyhose with the feet cut off. At 27, she invested  $5,000 of savings into a her new product. After several failed pitches, she changed into a pair of Spanx during a meeting with Neiman Marcus to prove the benefits of her product. It worked. The product took off in several department stores and was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Today, Sara Blakely is the youngest self-made female billionaire. She has pledged to give away half of her wealth to philanthropy. 

“Failure is not the outcome. Failure is not trying. Don’t be afraid to fail.” — Sara Blakely 


Youth Entrepreneurs equips this generation of students with economic principles built for prosperity. Explore stories of YE students’ entrepreneurism and successes here