In 1887, the Los Angeles Times declared, “This is an age not only of millionaires, but of millionairesses as well.” Wealthy women “worth their weight in gold” have existed from the beginning of American history, but these entrepreneurs have often remained invisible to scholarship and to financial history.
(Yet another) First Women’s Bank opened in 2021, claiming to be the “nation’s first women-founded, women-owned, and women-led bank dedicated to closing the gender equity gap in access to capital.” But it is easy to demonstrate that the current First Women’s Bank is far from first on each and all of these counts.
Are we currently living in a new Gilded Age embodied by the multi-billionaires of the Forbes 400, with their excesses of utopian cities and space tourism? Inclusion on The Forbes 400 list for 2021 requires net worth of at least $2.9 billion. However, these data underestimate women’s achievements, and conceal an underlying pattern of increasing entrepreneurial opportunities, socioeconomic mobility, and philanthropy by “robber baronesses.”
Usually reputable sources like the Guinness World Record claim that Madam C. J. Walker was the “first self-made millionairess” in the United States. However, Walker was not the first minority businesswoman who acquired enormous wealth. Numerous American Indians, Asians and black women have prospered through their own initiative and entrepreneurship, from the founding of the Republic.