Women have been a significant part of the workforce since WWII, and unofficially even longer. Not until recently, however, have we seen women in leadership roles on a frequent enough basis to call it "normal" ... although we can all agree that there is work to be done.
While the road to the top isn't easy, the following bold and trailblazing women have laid an amazing foundation for the rest of us and in honor of Women's History Month, they deserve a shot out.
Rebecca Pennock Lukens
In 1825 Rebecca purchased her late father’s business, Brandywine Iron & Nail. Although the business was struggling at the time, she managed to turn it around and expand. In 1834 Rebecca’s company was a leader in the production of parts for steamboats and railroads and she added a store, warehouse, and freight agency.
More than 30 years after Rebecca’s death, Brandywine Iron & Nail became a publicly traded company. It remained on the New York Stock Exchange as Lukens Iron & Steel until 1998 when it was acquired by Bethlehem Steel. In 1994 Rebecca was posthumously crowned “America’s first female CEO of an industrial company” by Fortune.
Bridget was born into slavery, and the family who owned her moved to the free state of California bringing their slaves with them. The story of Bridget’s success began when she sued her owners for her freedom in the 1850s. Bridget successfully won freedom for herself and her three daughters.
Working as a nurse and midwife, Bridget managed to set a bit of money aside. Bridget became one of the first black women to own land when she purchased commercial property in what is now downtown Los Angeles. She turned her investment of $250 into a real estate empire worth about $300,000 in 1884.
Born as Florence Nightingale Graham, she started as an assistant in a New York beauty salon. As her skill set broadened, she became a partner. In 1909 she opened her first salon on Fifth Avenue under her new name, Elizabeth Arden. From there this savvy businesswoman built an empire. Soon Elizabeth began designing, developing, and manufacturing her own beauty products.
In 1914 she incorporated and expanded her business allowing her to open a salon in France in 1922. She began the franchise known as Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa in 1934 when she converted her summer home in Maine into a beauty spa. Today there are Elizabeth Arden spas in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and South America.
Katharine Meyer Graham
In 1933 Katharine's father purchased The Washington Post at a bankruptcy auction. It became a family business and both Katharine and her mother began working there. In 1940 Katharine married Harvard Law Graduate Philip Graham and when her father died he left the business to Phillip.
Sadly Phillip was plagued by alcoholism and mental-health problems. He committed suicide in 1963. After her husband`s death Katharine gained leadership of the company making her the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Under her leadership the Post adopted a higher standard of investigative journalism and changed history by unearthing the Watergate scandal.
Martha Stewart's career had humble beginnings when her mother taught her how to sew, cook and craft at an early age. She used her skills to begin a catering business with a friend where she met clients in publishing. This led to a book deal which ultimately started her empire.
In 1997 Martha combined her various ventures into a single company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. In 1999 her company went public making her a billionaire in the process. Martha's influence on the way people entertain, decorate, cook and design has been unparalleled.
Oprah Winfrey overcame an impoverished childhood to build a media empire. The Oprah Winfrey Show is the most successful daytime TV program in history. At the age of 32 Oprah became a millionaire when her show received national syndication. The Oprah Winfrey Show has won multiple Emmy Awards and was broadcast in 145 countries.
Oprah was nominated for a Golden Globe and Oscar for her role as Sofia in Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple as well as receiving multiple nominations for her role as Gloria Gaines in The Butler and her work on Selma. She is the co-author of several books and the publisher of O, the Oprah Magazine. Oprah launched her own channel called OWN on January 1, 2011.
Who is your favorite female trailblazer?