Enterprising Women: 250 Years of American Business

March 25, 2003
June 01, 2003

Enterprising Women brings to life the stories of some 40 intriguing and diverse women who helped shape the landscape of American business, including several who made their headquarters in New York. Visitors will meet New York businesswomen Hetty Green, the savvy financier and investor known as the "Witch of Wall Street;" Ida Rosenthal, dressmaker turned manufacturing executive and founder of the Maiden Form Brassiere Company; and Martha Hunt Coston, whose pyrotechnic night signal contributed to the Union's naval superiority during the Civil War. Other New Yorkers featured in the exhibit include beauty and fashion pioneers Madam C.J. Walker, Elizabeth Arden and Hattie Carnegie and doyenne of domesticity Martha Stewart.

American business women from around the country play a part as well, including: Revolutionary War publisher and postmistress Mary Katharine Goddard, printer of the first copies of the Declaration of Independence to feature the names of the signers; Olive Beech, who took Beech Aircraft from aviation's barnstorming infancy to the aero-space age; Polish immigrant Ruth Handler, co-founder of Mattel Toy Company; Meg Whitman, CEO of eBay; and media entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey.

Enterprising Women for the first time weaves major themes of women's history—work and family, gender and professional identity, femininity and women's "proper place" and sex discrimination—into the fabric of business history.

Organized into five historic periods enhanced by interactive and evocative settings, Enterprising Women tells a saga grand in sweep and rich in details. Objects on view will include an original Declaration of Independence printed by Goddard, World War II carrier pigeon vests designed by the Maiden Form Brassiere Company, original Barbie dolls, as well as hundreds of other artifacts and costumes, diaries and letters, photographs and documents drawn from over 50 different museums, libraries and private collections. Video units invite visitors to step into the shoes of modern business women and trigger personal video portraits.

The exhibit's companion book Enterprising Women (University of North Carolina Press, 2002), by Virginia G. Drachman, the Arthur Jr. and Lenore Stern Professor of American History at Tufts University and former Radcliffe fellow, will be available at each venue. In addition, a full range of educational and public programming including lectures, films and lesson plans for middle and high school students will be available. A Web site at www.enterprisingwomenexhibit.org accompanies the exhibition and provides interactive games, educational materials, and on-line access to exhibition content.

In recognition of the important new scholarship and research presented in this exhibit, the Enterprising Women National Honorary Patrons Committee has been created to increase awareness of the exhibition's extraordinary story of American business women. It includes members of the Congressional Women's Caucus, the United States Supreme Court, and other federal and state officials, business owners, corporate and professional women, as well as national women's organizations.

Creative: Tronvig Group