October 5, 2002 to January 9, 2005

Enterprising Women brings to life the stories of some 40 intriguing women who helped shape the landscape of American business. Artifacts and costumes, diaries and letters, business and legal documents, photographs and paper ephemera, audio recordings, and interactive technology reveal the trials and triumphs of this diverse group of inventors, innovators and trendsetters.

The exhibition tells a saga grand in sweep and rich in details. Organized into five historic sections and enhanced by interactive and evocative settings, such as an 18th-century printshop, a 19th-century dressmaking shop, turn-of-the-century beauty parlor, and a 20th-century corporate office, Enterprising Women illuminates and personalizes the nation's transformation from an agricultural and household economy to one influenced by industrialization, the rise of big business, the emergence of consumer culture, and the technology revolution. Along the way, the exhibition highlights how race, class, ethnicity, geography, generation and social upheaval infused the experiences of women in business.

At the opening of the 21st century, American women own more than 7.7 million firms and represent 40 percent of businesses operating in the United States. Enterprising Women tells the story of the women who paved the way for this success.

Enterprising Women will introduce exhibition visitors to the lives of women business owners and managers like:

  • Mary Katherine Goddard, respected Revolutionary War printer and postmistress who published the first printed copies of the Declaration of Independence.
  • Eliza Lucas Pinckney, who first cultivated and developed indigo as a major cash crop in colonial South Carolina.
  • Victorian entrepreneurs like Rebecca Lukens, who took over her deceased husband's iron works and became the only woman iron manufacturer of the era.
  • Martha Coston, inventor of the Pyrotechnic Night Signal (night flare), which gave naval superiority to the North in the Civil War.
  • Lydia Pinkham, who turned a private herbal recipe for "female complaints" into a thriving patent medicine business.
  • Beauty and fashion pioneers like Madam C. J. Walker, Elizabeth Arden, and Hattie Carnegie, each of whom went from rags to riches marketing cosmetics and clothing to an increasingly diverse consumer.
  • Olive Ann Beech, co-founder with her husband of Beech Aircraft, a pioneering airplane manufacturer spanning the decades from aviation's barnstorming infancy to the aero-space age.
  • Polish immigrant Ruth Handler, co-founder of Mattel Toy Co., who created the Barbie doll and went on to found Nearly Me to market prostheses to fellow breast-cancer survivors.
  • New economy leaders like Meg Whitman, CEO of the on-line auction company eBay Inc., and the first woman to head an e-commerce site; Martha Stewart, America's most trusted guide to living with style and Linda Alvarado, founder and CEO of a major construction company. 

Organizing Institutions

  • The Schlesinger Library of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University
  • The National Heritage Museum


Ford Motor Company


Cabot Family Charitable Trust
US Small Business Administration