I came across some outdated news that Emma Faust Tillman, once the world’s oldest living person, died at 114. Normally I would marvel at her longevity and then move on to the next news article. In this case, something caught my eye – she was an entrepreneur with her own business! A woman, and a black woman at that, with her own business in 1910 is something worth doing more research on.
She was the daughter of former slaves (one of 23 children in her family!) and became the first black graduate of her high school. She had bookkeeping experience and took courses in bookkeeping so that she could keep the books at her father’s farm.
But, racial discrimination was very prevalent and she was not allowed to take those bookkeeping skills to work in an office setting. So, she started her own cooking and baking catering company (something in common with our beloved Martha Stewart who started on her multi-billion-dollar business from similar humble beginnings). She baked for such greats such as Katharine’s Hepburn’s father and Jackie Robinson and even President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he stayed at the old Heublein Hotel in Hartford.
Being a woman entrepreneur comes with its own challenges today. The obstacles must have been tenfold back in Ms. Faust’s day. We are so fortunate to have access to SBA small loans (where women get preference points just for being of the female persuasion), strong female leaders to look up to (Oprah, Andrea Jung, Anne Mulcahy, Martha Stewart, Idra Nooyi to name a few) and a culture that is more open to women taking charge of their own destinies. My hat’s off to Ms. Faust for leading such a long and storied life, helping to pave the way for other women entrepreneurs.