Iconic Women Entrepreneurs in History
Who rules the world? Girls!
While many people still feel that female entrepreneurship is a fairly recent and still emerging phenomenon, women have been entrepreneurs since ancient times, if not always. Unfortunately, they weren’t as recognized in history as their male counterparts due to social notions and standards of propriety in their time. Many stories of female entrepreneurs have been lost to history, but of those that survive, we are here to bring you the stories of four iconic women in history who have carved out a place for themselves.
1. Khadijah bint Khuwaylid
Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, often called Khadija-al-Kubra or “Khadija the Great”, was a capable businesswoman and the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad. The two first met when Muhammad, 25, entered the service of Khadijah bint Khuwaylid as one of his business agents.
Born into a wealthy merchant family, she was an educated and intelligent woman who took over the reins of the family business after her father died in battle. Not only did she run her family business efficiently, but with her business acumen, she also expanded it. In his job Tabaqat flight. 8 (translated by The women of Medina), Muhammad ibn Saad asserts that his trade caravans alone equaled the rest of the Qurayshi traders put together. There’s even a saying that her prowess was such that she could exchange a handful of dust for gold!
She was a good judge of character and delegated her trading efforts to capable people who traded on her behalf in distant places. She was a highly capable leader and respected the advice of her family members and advisors while retaining the final say in her decisions. His appreciation for skill, integrity and honesty in his work made him take notice of Muhammad when his trusted servants praised his skill in trade and honorable conduct.
Mariam-uz-Zamani, popularly known as Jodha Bai, was the Empress of India and the Rajput wife of Mughal Emperor Akbar. As Empress, Mariam-uz-Zamani was a woman of great privilege and means. Mughal women enjoyed generous allowances and gifts and could also own land and derive income from it. Yet instead of needlessly wasting her wealth, she used her business acumen to bring even more prosperity to her people.
She laid the foundation for international trade in the kingdom by ordering a fleet of ships to be built. The Mughals were descendants of landlocked countries and could not comprehend the wisdom of strong naval prowess. Yet, at his insistence, Emperor Akbar approved the construction of trading ships by Mariam-uz-Zamani. These ships transported pilgrims to Mecca for the holy journey of Hajj while carrying cargoes of silk and several spices to be exchanged for gold, silver, precious stones and other goods. She was the owner and patron of the ships Rahimi and Ganj-I-Sawai, some of the largest trading vessels to cross the seas at the time.
His entrepreneurial spirit was passed on to his granddaughter, Princess Jahanara Begum, who became a great patron of arts and commerce. She is best known for creating the Chandni Chawk Market, which in its heyday saw merchants and traders from all over the world.
3. Mrs. CJ Walker
The first child born free to slave parents, Mrs. CJ Walker (née Sarah Breedlove), faced a difficult childhood and youth. She was orphaned at age seven; in 1912, at age 46, she was once widowed and twice divorced. By the time of her death, aged 51, she had firmly cemented her place as first self-made female millionaire in American history.
As an impoverished laundress, Breedlove was malnourished. The lack of means to maintain good hygiene afflicted her with scalp ailments, due to which she lost a substantial amount of hair. After experimenting with formulating various hair styling and scalp care methods, she managed to create products that helped her regrow her hair.
Breedlove’s target audience for its hair grower was working-class black women. They faced similar issues as her when trying to take care of their hair, as there was a lack of products in the market that could address their hair texture. Breedlove sold its products to other black women offering them a free treatment with the product they purchased. Eager to look presentable for more respectable and better paying jobs, many urban black women tried her products.
His strategy was immensely successful and his business grew steadily. She employed agents to sell her products across the United States. She became very wealthy from her business and called herself “Madame CJ Walker” – “Madame” after the pioneers of the French beauty industry at the time, and “CJ Walker” after her husband and then business partner, Charles Joseph Walker.
Madam CJ Walker continued to diversify and expand her business internationally while sparing no expense in training her employees and agents. At home, she used the wealth she acquired to uplift her community. She funded scholarships for promising African-American students and funded orphanages, community buildings and institutes. Her story was recently adapted into a Netflix series called “Self Made”, starring Octavia Spencer as the titular madam.
4) Joyce Chen
Born in Beijing in 1917 as Liao Chia-ai, Joyce Chen immigrated to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to the United States with her husband and two older children in 1949. In 1958, Chen opened her first restaurant, Joy Chen Restaurant, Cambridge. its chinese the kitchen was in high demand because many Chinese students at Harvard and MIT missed the taste of their native cuisine in a country that didn’t know it at all.
Seeing the potential for acceptance of Chinese cuisine in the region, Chen began operating a buffet-style restaurant serving American and Chinese dishes side by side to encourage everyone to try Chinese dishes. To familiarize Americans with Chinese cuisine, she created Americanized names for Chinese dishes on the English menu. Each dish was also numbered to facilitate interaction between staff and customers.
Chen has had many notable achievements in his career. In addition to coining the term “Peking dumplingsfor a dish called Potstickers, she also popularized now well-known Chinese dishes, such as Peking Duck, Pork Moo Shi, Scallion Pancake, Soup Dumplings, and Hot and Sour Soup. Chen holds the patent for the Flat Bottom Steel Wok or the “Wok Pekingesewhich she introduced to the American public in 1971. She is also responsible for the concept of selling bottled Chinese sauces in the market. In 1962, she self-published her landmark cookbook, Joyce Chen’s Cookbook, a die first cookbooks to have color images of each dish.
The massive success of her cookbook and the cooking classes she taught at the Cambridge Adult Education Center led Chen to host a PBS show, Joyce Chen cooks. It was the first national show in American history to have a host of Asian descent. Joyce Chen Foods, the chef’s brand, is still present and influential, led by Chen’s youngest son, Mr. Stephen Chen, as the company’s president. On September 26, 2014, the United States Postal Service included Joyce Chen in its Celebrity Chef Forever series of stamps. She was one of five chefs featured in the series that revolutionized the kitchen space in the United States.
These are just a few of the many accomplished, enterprising and ambitious women who have achieved great things, in their own way, in their time. We share their stories with you in hopes of showing future generations of female entrepreneurs that their roots run deep. History has borne witness to these iconic women and their determination to succeed. When it’s your moment, we hope it will also testify to your story.
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