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Elizabeth Arden. Photograph by Arnold Genthe. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G4085- 0381 P&P).

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Arden, Elizabeth (31 December 1878?–18 October 1966), businesswoman, was born Florence Nightingale Graham (her legal name throughout life) in Woodbridge, near Toronto, Canada, the daughter of William Graham and Susan Tadd, farmers. Florence would remain a citizen of Canada until she married an American, Thomas Jenkins Lewis, in 1915. Her mother died when Florence was a small child. Unable to finish high school because of her straitened finances, she entered nursing but found that she disliked working with sick people. She moved quickly through jobs as dental assistant, stenographer, and cashier and finally followed her brother William to New York City. By then she was about thirty, although her youthful complexion made her look about twenty. In 1908, as a cashier in a New York beauty salon, she persuaded her employer, Eleanor Adair, to teach her how to give facials, and she quickly mastered this “art of the healing hands.”...

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Mary Kay Ash. In her office, Dallas, Texas, January 1982. Courtesy of AP Images.

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Ash, Mary Kay (12 May 1918–22 November 2001), founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, known as Mary Kay, was born Mary Kathlyn Wagner in Hot Wells, Texas, north of Houston, the daughter of Edward Alexander Wagner, an invalid, and Lula Vember Hastings, a restaurant manager. Texas has no record of Mary Kathlyn Wagner's birth for 1918—the year she usually claimed—nor for 1916, the date cited second most often; she may have been born as early as 1915. By 1920, her family moved to Houston's bleak Sixth Ward....

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Ayer, Harriet Hubbard (27 June 1849–23 November 1903), businesswoman and journalist, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Henry George Hubbard, a real estate dealer, and Juliet Elvira Smith. Her father died when Harriet was three years old, but his legacy of valuable land purchases enabled the family to live comfortably. Poor health limited Harriet’s early education to private tutors. Although Episcopalian, she entered the Catholic Convent of the Sacred Heart at the age of twelve, graduating three years later....

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Hazel Bishop a research chemist who two years earlier rocked the cosmetics world with her formula for a long-lasting lipstick, uses her own lipstick in her New York City office, 7 April 1951. Associated Press

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Bishop, Hazel (17 August 1906–05 December 1998), cosmetics executive, was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, the daughter of Henry Bishop, an entrepreneur who operated several small businesses, including a motion-picture distributorship, and Mabel Billington Bishop, who assisted in the businesses. Both parents were Jewish. Business discussions around the dinner table were typical family fare, and young Bishop and her brother were encouraged to participate. However, as a bright student with a scientific bent, she was not expected to choose a business career. Upon graduating from the Bergen School for Girls in Jersey City, Bishop enrolled at Barnard College in New York City in 1925 with the intention of becoming a physician. After successful completion of a pre-med program, she graduated in 1929 and planned to pursue medical studies at Columbia University. She began taking evening graduate school courses that fall at Columbia, but the collapse of the stock market in October and the ensuing economic depression put an end to her plans for medical school....

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Jacqueline Cochran Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105221).

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Cochran, Jacqueline (1910?–09 August 1980), pioneer aviator and business executive, was born in Muscogee, Florida, near Pensacola. Her parents both died during her infancy, and she was raised by foster families with whom she worked in the lumber mills of the Florida panhandle. By the age of fifteen she had also worked in a Columbus, Georgia, cotton mill and learned how to cut hair in a beauty shop. Cochran took nursing training at a hospital in Montgomery, Alabama, from 1925 to 1928, but by 1930 she had returned to Pensacola to work in a beauty salon. In 1932 she traveled to Philadelphia to work in a beauty shop and then moved in the same year to New York City, where her skill earned her a job at Antoine’s, a well-known Saks Fifth Avenue beauty shop. For the next four years she worked for this business, spending every winter working in Antoine’s branch in Miami Beach, Florida. She met ...

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Dreyfus, Camille Edouard (11 November 1878–27 September 1956), industrial chemist and entrepreneur, was born in Basel, Switzerland, the son of Abraham Dreyfus, a banker, and Henrietta Wahl. Camille and his younger brother, Henri (later Americanized to Henry), both received their education at the University of Basel, being awarded their Ph.D.s in chemistry in 1902 and 1905, respectively. Camille also pursued postgraduate study at the Sorbonne in Paris until 1906. After working several years in Basel to gain industrial experience, Camille and his brother established a chemical laboratory in their home town. Seeking a product that the public would readily buy, they developed a synthetic indigo. Although they made some money in this venture, it quickly became clear that synthetic indigo did not have a sufficient market. Consequently the Dreyfus brothers focused their attention on celluloid, which at that time was produced only in a flammable form. They recognized that a large potential market existed for nonflammable celluloid, if it could be developed. They focused on cellulose acetate and were shortly producing one to two tons per day. Half of their output went to the motion picture industry for film, with the other half going into the production of toilet articles....

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Malone, Annie Turnbo (09 August 1869–10 May 1957), African-American businesswoman, manufacturer, and philanthropist, was born in Metropolis, Illinois, the daughter of Robert Turnbo and Isabella Cook, farmers. Little is known of the early childhood of Annie Turnbo Malone, except that she was second youngest of eleven children. Her parents were former slaves in Kentucky. Her father joined the Union army during the Civil War, and her mother escaped to Illinois with her small children. After the war, Robert Turnbo joined his family at Metropolis, where he became a farmer and landowner. Following the death of both parents, Annie went to live with older brothers and sisters in Metropolis and, later, Peoria and Lovejoy, Illinois. She completed public school education in Metropolis and attended high school in Peoria. Because of ill health, she did not complete her high school education. In these early years, Malone dreamed of making products to enhance the beauty of black women. She experimented with chemistry while in high school, and believing that “woman’s crowning glory is her hair,” she developed a scalp treatment solution to grow and straighten hair....

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Noda, Alice Sae Teshima (28 July 1894–25 July 1964), businesswoman, was the daughter of Yasuke Teshima and Eki Kurauchi, plantation immigrant laborers to Hawaii from Fukuoka, Japan. The Teshimas arrived in 1899, labored on a plantation near Wahiawa, and by 1904 had saved enough to become independent pineapple growers. Alice Sae Teshima graduated from McKinley High School. In December 1912 she married Steere Gikaku Noda, whose parents also had immigrated as plantation laborers to Hawaii, in 1891. She had met her future husband while they both were attending the Hawaii Japanese Language School. He took a post as deputy-collector for the federal Internal Revenue Service in Honolulu and, later, as an interpreter-clerk for the District Court of Honolulu until, after studying law, he served as court practitioner after 1930. The Nodas had four children. After the birth of their last child, she returned to school, attending the Honolulu Dental Infirmary, and upon graduation in 1922 she worked as a dental hygienist for the Department of Public Instruction, teaching children dental care. By 1924, through her effort, competence, skills, and leadership, she became the head of the Honolulu Dental Hygiene School. By 1925 she was a recognized community leader, serving as president of the Dental Hygienists’ Association....

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Pinkham, Lydia Estes (09 February 1819–17 May 1883), inventor of the proprietary medicine that bears her name, was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, the daughter of William Estes, a farmer who made his money in land development, and his second wife, Rebecca Chase. When she was growing up, the Estes household served as one of the gathering places for antislavery leaders, including ...

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Helena Rubinstein. Colored etching on paper, c. 1908, by Paul César Helleu. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; Abraham and Virginia Weiss Charitable Trust, Amy and Marc Meadows.

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Rubinstein, Helena (25 December 1870–01 April 1965), cosmetics entrepreneur, was born in Cracow, Poland, the daughter of Horace Rubinstein, a food broker, and Augusta Silberfield. Helena and her sisters were taught the value and import of beauty by their mother. The daughters used jars of cream concocted by a chemist for their mother’s friend, the actress ...

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Van Slyke, Helen Lenore Vogt (09 July 1919–03 July 1979), fashion executive and romance novelist, was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Frederick H. Vogt and Lenore Siegel. Helen began working in journalism as a teenager by selling advertisements for the Washington ...

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Walker, A'Lelia (06 June 1885–17 August 1931), arts patron and cosmetics industry executive, was born Lelia McWilliams in Delta, Louisiana, the only child of the Sarah Breedlove, who would become the hair care entrepreneur and philanthropist Madam C. J. Walker, and Moses McWilliams, a sharecropper. In 1888, while still a toddler, she moved with her widowed mother from Vicksburg, Mississippi, to St. Louis, Missouri, where three of her maternal uncles operated a barbershop. At nearby St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, women parishioners reached out, caring for Lelia in the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home while Sarah worked during the week as a washerwoman. As a choir member, Sarah was exposed to educated, middle-class women—many of whom were members of the National Association of Colored Women—and began to aspire to a better life for herself and her daughter. Sarah’s marriage to an abusive alcoholic named John Davis during Lelia’s adolescence created instability and frequently disrupted her school attendance. In 1901, when Lelia was sixteen years old, her mother left Davis and sent her to Knoxville College in Tennessee, where she remained for less than a year. As an adult, she changed her name to A’Lelia....

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Madam C. J. Walker. Gelatin silver print, c. 1914, by Addison N. Scurlock. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of A'Lelia Bundles/ Walker Family.

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Walker, Madam C. J. (23 December 1867–25 May 1919), businesswoman, was born Sarah Breedlove in Delta, Louisiana, the daughter of Minerva (maiden name unknown) and Owen Breedlove, sharecroppers. Her destitute parents struggled mightily against the system of racism and oppression in the post–Civil War years but were defeated by it and died, leaving Sarah an orphan at six years of age. She lived next with her sister, Louvenia, in Vicksburg, Mississippi, but life was not much better there. In 1881, at the age of fourteen, she married Moses “Jeff” McWilliams, having one daughter, Lelia (later to call herself A’Lelia). In 1887 McWilliams was killed, possibly lynched during a race riot. Sarah Breedlove, twenty years old, barely literate, unskilled, and with a two-year-old child, faced a desperate situation. Leaving Mississippi, she headed up the Mississippi River to St. Louis where she became a washerwoman....