Certainly, there are still more men than women in executive suites and certainly there is still a discrepancy in earning power—women do 67 percent of the work in the world, yet earn only 10 percent of the income—but working women have made incredible progress in the last century. Here’s a look at ten inspirational career women from history.
1. Sarah E. Goode
Sarah E. Goode became the first African-American woman to receive a patent. The patent was for a bed that folded into a cabinet. Born into slavery, Goode, an owner of a furniture store in Chicago, wanted her cabinet bed to become a staple in apartments. It later became known as the “hideaway bed.”
2. Sarah Breedlove Walker
An impoverished daughter from freed slaves who became the first African-American woman millionaire, Sarah Breedlove Walker built the largest black-owned business in America after creating pomades and shampoos for African-American women. She also became one of the largest employers of African-American women, where she trained a 3,000 strong sales staff to work on commission.
3. Beatrice Fox Auerbach
As president of G. Fox and Company, Hartford, Connecticut’s leading department store, Beatrice Fox Auerbach was instrumental in instituting labor reforms for her staff. She created a five-day week, medical and non-profit lunch facilities, interest-free loans for employees in a crisis, and retirement plans. Hers was one of the first stores to hire and advance black employees and in 1965, she sold her publicly held shares, worth forty million dollars, and moved into civic leadership and philanthropy.
4. Esther Peterson
She became the first lobbyist for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union (ACWU).
5. Alice Ramsey
The first woman to drive across the continental United States, which makes her one of my personal heroes.
6. Josephine Patterson Albright
A wild game hunter in Africa, newspaper reporter in Chicago, and after four children and a divorce, she received her bachelor’s degree at fifty.
7. Katharine Graham
As publisher of the Washington Post, Graham won a Supreme Court ruling from her decision to publish The Pentagon Papers during the Watergate scandal. My favorite line from her Pulitzer Prize winning memoir, Personal History, resonates with my own choices so far in life. “I had very little idea of what I was supposed to be doing, so I set out to learn. What I essentially did was to put one foot in front of the other, shut my eyes, and step off the edge. The surprise was that I landed on my feet.”
Ron Galella / Contributor / Getty
8. Liz Claiborne
After fleeing the Nazis in 1939 with her family and later studying visual arts, Liz Claiborne became the first woman CEO and Chairperson of a Fortune 500 company. Ranked third in “Most Admired Corporation” by Fortune Magazine, Liz Claiborne, inducted into the National Business Hall of Fame and National Sales Hall of Fame, later received an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design.
9. Linda Alvarado
With a $2,500 loan from her parents, Linda Alvarado started her own construction company in 1976, Alvarado Construction, out of Denver, Colorado. Alvarado Construction continues to be one of the fastest growing commercial general contracting companies in the U.S. In 1991, Linda made history by becoming the first Hispanic to own a major baseball franchise, the Colorado Rockies.
10. Cynthia M. Trudell
Cynthia M. Trudell became the first woman to run a U.S. car company in 1999, where she served as General Motors’ Vice President and Chairman and President of Saturn Corporation. In 2007, she became Senior Vice President and Chief Personnel Officer for PepsiCo.