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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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Cannon, Poppy (2 Aug. 1905–1 April 1975), cookbook author, journalist, and advertising executive, was born Lillian Gruskin in Cape Town, South Africa, to Robert and Henrietta Gruskin, Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. (Henrietta’s maiden name is unknown.) The family moved to the United States in ...

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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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Everleigh, Ada (15 February 1876–03 January 1960), and Minna Everleigh (13 July 1878–16 September 1948), businesswomen, were born in rural Kentucky, the daughters of a prosperous lawyer whose last name was Lester. Their mother’s name is unknown. They received little education. The sisters married brothers in 1897, but both husbands proved to be violent brutes, and the sisters left them after less than a year. Ada and Minna left Kentucky in 1898 and settled in Omaha, Nebraska, where they worked as prostitutes during the Trans-Mississippi Exhibition and eventually invested in a brothel. The closing of the fair led to a shortage of customers, and the sisters decided to head for more lucrative surroundings. With money inherited from their father they traveled to Chicago and on 1 February 1900 opened the famous Everleigh Club in the heart of the city’s vice district, known as the Levee District. They had assumed the name Everleigh at some point and used it throughout their residence in Chicago. Within a year they employed thirty women and achieved a national reputation for providing entertainment for men. “Minna and Ada Everleigh are to pleasure what Christ was to Christianity,” a reporter wrote....

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See Everleigh, Ada

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Moody, Harriet Converse (18 March 1857–22 February 1932), entrepreneur and patron of the arts, was born in Parkman, Ohio, the daughter of William Mason Tilden, a livestock broker, and Harriet Converse. William Tilden moved his family to Chicago circa 1867. Educated at home by her mother, Harriet later attended the Howland School, a Quaker institution in Union Springs, New York. She continued her education at Cornell University, where she earned a degree in English literature in 1876. Enrolling at the Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia, she returned to Chicago after one year, made her debut, and married Edwin Brainard, a lawyer. The marriage was not a success, and the Brainards were divorced in the 1880s....

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Sbarboro, Andrea (26 November 1839–28 February 1923), wine producer and banker, was born in Acero, Italy, near Genoa, the son of Stefano Sbarboro, a farmer, and Maria (maiden name unknown). In 1844 the Sbarboros and their nine children emigrated to New York City, where Andrea was a street peddler of toys from the age of eight. His mother, a strong Catholic, did not allow Andrea to attend public schools because they offered no religious instruction; thus, he received little formal education. He learned to write from a neighbor who gave evening lessons and later received additional instruction in an Italian-American school....

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Vestey, Evelyn (01 August 1875–23 May 1941), business executive, known as Lady Vestey, was born Evelene Brodstone in Monroe, Wisconsin, the daughter of Hans Brodstone and Mathilde Brodstone (maiden name unknown), Norwegian immigrants. In 1878, the family moved to a farm near Superior, Nebraska. The following year her father died. As a youngster, one of her closest friends was ...