From Ideas to Independence

A Century of Entrepreneurial Women

Microsoft National Womens History Museum

About This Exhibit

“From Ideas the Independence: A Century of Entrepreneurial Women” explores the legacies of entrepreneurial women, who forged through challenges and setbacks to create their own paths to economic and professional independence and open their own businesses. The exhibit highlights businesses of female entrepreneurs from 1910 to present, including Elizabeth Arden, who began her career in 1910 as a nurse and then dental assistant, and later launched a skin cream and Fifth Avenue salon that turned her into a household name; Ruth Fertel, who as a single mom in 1965, mortgaged her house to launch Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse; and Sara Blakely, who emptied her savings account of $5,000 to develop a line of shapewear that would make women look slim and trim, resulting in the wildly popular Spanx. The exhibit also recognizes the increasingly prominent role that technology has played in enabling women to launch and sustain new businesses.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential. Recognizing the crucial role of entrepreneurs as job creators, community builders and drivers of the U.S. economy, Microsoft is committed to serving the needs of millions of small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) in the U.S., helping them start, grow and thrive by delivering affordable and powerful enterprise-grade technology. Microsoft is proud to partner in this exhibit with the National Women’s History Museum, to commemorate the experiences and recognize the accomplishments of trailblazing women who bring their ideas to fruition in the form of a business. For more on Microsoft technologies and resources for entrepreneurs and SMBs, visit


Kristen Gwinn-Becker

Dr. Kristen Gwinn-Becker maintains several professional identities, including historian, technologist, author, businesswoman, strategist, and general rabble-rouser. She brings her interdisciplinary approach to both education and business. She graduated from UMaine with a BA in History at age 19, becoming the youngest graduate of the university. She also earned a Master’s of Philosophy in International Peace Studies from Trinity College Dublin and a PhD in U.S. History from George Washington University. She is the author of Emily Greene Balch: The Long Road to Internationalism, a biography of the second U.S. woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. As a database and web developer, she has always worked to integrate her technology skills into her various roles working with a range of nonprofit organizations and small businesses. In 2012, she founded and currently serves as CEO of HistoryIT, an information technology business that bridges the gap between technology, humanities scholarship, and digital resources.

Debra Michals

Debra Michals, (Ph.D., New York University) is an independent scholar, activist, public speaker and women’s historian, specializing in women’s entrepreneurship, the women’s movement and feminist blogosphere. As of 2013, she is completing a book on the rise of women business owners in the decades since World War II and is the author of Dr. Michals is an instructor of women’s and gender studies at Merrimack College, where she has served as interim director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, and has been a visiting scholar to Northeastern University. Previously, she held the position of Associate Director of Women’s Studies at New York University, where she helped obtain a Ford Foundation Grant in Women’s and Area Studies and earned the President’s Leadership Service Award. Dr. Michals began her career as a journalist before discovering her passion for women’s history. She is co-author of the US history textbook A People and A Nation, Brief Ninth Edition, and has contributed to several anthologies, including Sisterhood Is Forever (2003), Image Nation: American Countercultures in the 1960s and ‘70s (2002); Reading Women’s Lives (2003), and Notable American Women (2004). She serves as a consultant/editor for several higher education publishers, and her work has appeared in academic journals and mainstream publications. Dr. Michals was formerly the content director for The Women’s Museum: An Institute for the Future, a consultant to the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Trust, a consultant/writer for the HistoryChannel, and is presently a member of the advisory board for the International Museum of Women.

Research assistance provided by: Maren Wood, Ph.D.; Merrimack College students Alexis Altman, Courtney Gray, Kelcie Malloy, Maegen Sincleair and Katelyn Trahanas; and National Women’s History Museum interns Allison Schell and Elissa Blattman. Special thanks to Linda J. Denny.