Updated: Dec 31, 2020
For this Black History Month, Black Girl Ventures went on a mission to research some of the most impactful Black women entrepreneurs and inventors from our past. These women didn't have to bring seats to the table; they built their own building then brought their own tables and chairs. Yet, another reminder of the incredible resilience and perseverance of our ancestors. Unfortunately, you won't read about these women in the history books so, we hope this list inspires you to propel your dreams forward relentlessly.
Madame CJ Walker
(December 23, 1867 – May 25, 1919)
Madam C.J. Walker created specialized hair products for African American hair care and was one of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire.
She invented a line of African American hair products after suffering from a scalp ailment that resulted in her own hair loss. She promoted her products by traveling around the country, giving lecture-demonstrations, and eventually established Madame C.J. Walker Laboratories to manufacture cosmetics and train sales beauticians.
As profits continued to grow, in 1908, Walker opened a factory and a beauty school in Pittsburgh. By 1910, the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company had become wildly successful, with profits that were the modern-day equivalent of several million dollars.
A relentless innovator, Walker used her political outreach to organize clubs and conventions for her representatives, which recognized not only successful sales, but also philanthropic and educational efforts among African Americans.
Walker contributed to the YMCA, covered tuition for six African American students at Tuskegee Institute, and became active in the anti-lynching movement, donating $5,000 to the NAACP's movement. Before her death, Walker changed her will and donated two-thirds of future net profits to charity, as well as thousands of dollars to various individuals and schools.
(August 15, 1818 – January 15, 1891)
Bridget Mason (aka "Biddy") was a black female slave who became one of the richest women in Los Angeles. She was a real estate mogul and a midwife. She later gained her freedom thanks to the help of her white son-in-law, Charles Owens.
Bridget birthed three daughters by her slave master, Robert Smith. After converting to Mormonism, Smith and his wife moved to Utah in a wagon, forcing Bridget to follow on foot. A church leader attempted to convince Smith to free his slaves, but Smith was unwilling.
The church leader did persuade Smith to move to California. Smith was unaware he had entered the Union as a free state. Bridget Mason became a free woman. She eventually saved enough money to purchase two estates, making her one of the first Black women to own property in Los Angeles. Over several years, Mason bought and managed more property. She leased some out commercially and sold portions of it.
As Los Angeles grew, so did the value of her real estate. In 1872, she financed the city's first Black church. Soon, Mason was "known by every citizen" as "Aunt Biddy." She was quickly beloved in the untouched town of Los Angeles, which numbered only 2,000 or so residents—less than 20 of whom were Black.
Los Angeles Times wrote:
She was a frequent visitor to the jail, speaking a word of cheer and leaving some token and a prayerful hope with every prisoner. In the slums of the city, she was known as "Grandma Mason," and did much active service toward uplifting the worst element in Los Angeles. She paid taxes and all expenses on church property to hold it for her people. During the flood of the early eighties, she gave an open order to a little grocery store, which was located on Fourth and Spring Streets. By the terms of this order, all families made homeless by the flood were to be supplied with groceries, while Biddy Mason cheerfully paid the bill.
By the late 1800s, Mason had acquired a fortune of $300,000 (approximately $6 million today), making her the wealthiest black woman in the city.
“If you hold your hand closed, nothing good can come of it. The open hand is blessed, for it gives abundance, even as it receives.”
(September 16, 1861 – 1947)