Women Entrepreneurs: Female Business Role Models

March is Women’s History Month in the United States, and here at Clarity Accounting, we are again happy to honor some trail-blazing female entrepreneurs. Even after hard-won gains for access and acceptance, it is still often a “man’s world” in business, but that is changing. Women-owned businesses are the fastest-growing segment of business ownership in the United States, and we know that most jobs are created and maintained by small businesses. Small businesses will lead the way in job creation as we recover from the Great Recession of 2009, and women business owners will be at the forefront of that recovery. Women business owners today can look back with pride at our “foremothers” in the world of business and receive both valuable lessons and inspiration from learning how these women overcame even greater challenges to succeed in their chosen fields.

Maggie Lena Walker: the first female bank president in the United States of America. Maggie Lena Walker was born in 1867 in Virginia, the daughter of a former slave and an Irish-born American abolitionist. After graduating from the Richmond Normal School, Maggie began a teaching career. After she married was pregnant with her first child, however, she had to give up teaching as was the requirement for female teachers well into the middle of the 20th century.

Maggie turned her energies to volunteer work, including working with a benevolent society, the International Order of St. Luke. In 1899, as the Society was on the brink of financial failure, Maggie started a major membership drive and recruited 100,000 members in 20 states. In 1903, Maggie decided to expand the opportunities for the Society and formed a bank, called the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, and served as its president until 1932. Maggie Lena Walker thus became the first female president of a United States bank. Although now part of a conglomerate of banks, the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank is still in existence.

Vera Wang: successful fashion house founder. Vera Ellen Wang was born in 1949 in New York City, the daughter of immigrants who fled China after World War II. Her original dream was to become an Olympic figure skater. She received a pair of ice skates as a Christmas present was started practicing every day at 6 a.m. By age 12, Vera was a regional champion. As the years passed, and her studies became more rigorous, Vera had to give up skating and her Olympic dream.

After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College, Vera was able to pursue her second great love, clothes. She was hired as an assistant at Vogue magazine and worked her way up to fashion editor for the magazine at age 24. She often worked seven days a week; but she was eventually rejected for the position of Editor-in-Chief at Vogue. Devastated, Vera quit Vogue and soon went to work for Ralph Lauren as a designer. Again, Vera was working very hard, but it was not her name on the product.

Vera decided to take her career track into her own hands and opened her own design studio. Today, she is Founder, Chairman, and CEO of one of the most successful fashion design houses in the world. Vera Wang specializes in wedding dresses.

Neither Maggie Lena Walker nor Vera Ellen Wang enjoyed the benefits of online accounting software as they began their entrepreneurial ventures. But they overcame tremendous odds and heart-breaking failures to reach the highest levels of their industries.