This was a hard list to make. Because the number of amazing dead dudettes is really off the charts. It’s also a fairly different one than Jonathan’s list of Dead Dudes because, as it turns out, men and women really are different. And the thing is, there isn’t a historic list of women entrepreneurs – that are called that – like there is of men.
So, as women often do, I took another tack. I found women that succeeded and failed and got back up again, that did things no once else had done and that used their voices in mighty ways – because even though they aren’t marketing gurus, the lessons they left us are indelible and critical to the entrepreneur’s path, male or female.
1. Katherine Graham presided over the Washington Post for more than two decades. Her leadership and pursuit of the truth was critical in exposing the Watergate scandal and prompting Nixon’s eventual impeachment. She took a huge risk by believing and supporting Woodward and Bernstein. All of this would have been challenging for any one, but Katherine did it as a woman in a traditionally male world. There were no role models as no one had come before her, she was the first female head of a major paper. Follow Katherine to trail blaze and make your own way; know that your example helps everyone that follows. Her memoir, Personal History, won the Nobel Prize in 1998.
2. Golda Meir First of all, she was the daughter of a grocery store clerk from Milwaukee and she ended up as the Prime Minister of Israel – need I say more? Golda followed a dream and a belief from Wisconsin to the Middle East. She was a critical player in the establishment of the Jewish state. This story tells us so much: “On May 10th, 1948, four days before the official establishment of the state of Israel, Golda traveled to Amman disguised as an Arab woman for a secret meeting with King Abdullah of Transjordan where she urged him not to join the other Arab countries in attacking the Jews. Abdullah asked her not to hurry to proclaim a state. Golda, known for her acerbic wit, replied: ‘We’ve been waiting for 2,000 years. Is that hurrying?'” Follow Golda by taking risks (the danger she put herself in!) for what you know is right and speaking up for what you believe (no matter who your company). Her autobiography is a life changer: My Life.
3. Martha Graham was a dancer and a choreographer, but she really wanted to be known as a dancer. Inevitably, as her youth faded, her dancing, and then her life, did as well. Her own personal accounts tell of the terror of watching someone else – younger – dance her dances, “…how can you avoid it when you look on stage and see a dancer made up to look as you did thirty years ago, dancing a ballet you created with someone you were then deeply in love with, your husband? I think that is a circle of hell Dante omitted.” At this point, she admittedly lost her will to live, stopped eating and started drinking, until she ended up hospitalized in a coma. And then she came back. She reorganized her company, choreographed 10 new revivals and won the Medal of Freedom from President Ford over the course of the next 20 years until her death at 96. Follow Martha Graham for resurgence, grit, grace and that second wind when you really need it the most. Read The Life and Work of Martha Graham.
4. Anais Nin is best known for her erotica and her diaries. In writing erotica, she opened up a world where women do daring things and take pleasure at will, it was and continues to be empowering and tantilizing. With her diaries, she exposed her personal life and her relationships with famous writers like Henry Miller. She uncovered the writer/thinker’s life, their inspirations and actual lives. She said, “This diary is my kief, hashish, and opium pipe. This is my drug and my vice.” Imagine what she would have done with a blog? Follow Anais to get in touch with your erotic side, to give taboo subjects a beautiful voice and when you’re searching for transparency. Read her diaries and (definitely) read Delta of Venus.
5. Eve There’s a bumper sticker that I believe was written for Eve, it says: Well-behaved women seldom make history. Once upon a time, Eve had a choice, she could follow the rules or not. She chose to be a daredevil, truth be told. That serpent helped her get the hell out of dodge and pave her own way – a way filled with the good and the bad. Because, as all women know, being good is just plain boring (most of us like bad boys and if Adam was going to play the goody two shoes, by God, Eve was going to corrupt him). Follow Eve by being curious, by following your cravings and your passions, and – of course – by misbehaving. There are many books that talk about Eve, (sadly she didn’t leave us a personal account of what really went down) but you might want to start with the Old Testament (and make sure to read in between the lines).
6. Georgia O’Keeffe‘s artwork is undeniably female – though she emphatically claimed that her flower images really were of flowers. Georgia is about being an individual – in person and in expression. No other art looks like hers. It is so unique. I am not an art buff, but I can always spot an O’Keeffe. Her style, her colors, her medium are undeniably her. Cow skull, iris, landscape, desert – it’s all Georgia. Follow her to make your mark, create your signature, stand out from everyone else; follow her for beauty – often explored at short range. Read Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life
7. Katharine Hepburn wore pants and wore them so well. She was the picture of poise, but she was fiercely strong. In a biz where smiling for the press and everyone else was box office gold, she was labeled box office poison for her unconventional, straight-shooting, anti-Hollywood attitude. She was outspoken, esoteric and had a sharp tongue. And none of this was softened by her refusal of make-up and pretty dresses. Still, she earned 12 Oscar nominations and four statues. On location filming African Queen, director John Huston spoke of how on their days off, he and Bogart would go hunting for lions and such, and how one day Hepburn asked to join them. “He described her as a “Diana of the Hunt” — utterly fearless — and able to shoot with the best of them.” Follow Katharine to go against all conventions and to be real – as in ‘not fake’ or hidden under pretenses or make-up (actual or metaphorical). Read Me: Stories of My Life
8. Sacajawea As the native American guide who accompanied Lewis and Clark, Sacajawea accomplished magnificent feats such as cooking food she foraged to keep the men alive and identifying the correct route through the Yellowstone River Basin that would eventually be chosen as the best path for the the Northern Pacific Railway to cross the continental divide. But her main role was interpreter. She was critical to the expedition as she communicated to tribes encountered along the way, letting them know that no harm was meant, sometimes enlisting their help. Some historians believe it was her ‘womanness’ that proved the most useful as it effectively and unequivocally signaled peace. Follow Sacajawea for vision, clear communication and peace keeping.
9. Babe Zaharias wasn’t just an athlete. She was the quintessential athlete. She earned international fame in track and field and All-American status in basketball. She was an expert diver, roller-skater and bowler and played organized baseball and softball. And, she earmed two gold medals and one silver for track and field in the 1932 Olympics. But wait, there’s more! She was a golfer, too. Babe was the first (and currently only) woman to make the cut in a regular PGA tour event. Against the women, she dominated, winning just about everything you can imagine including the Grand Slam (3 women’s majors) in 1950. She still holds several golfing records today. Oh, and she performed in vaudeville. Follow Babe to cover the spectrum, to take your talent and use it across the field, for diversity, for skill, strength and stamina…and to win. Read Babe Didrikson: The Greatest All-Sport Athlete of All Time.
10. Virgina Woolf In her most widely known work, A Room of One’s Own, Virginia claims, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” You can take that at face value, or you can take it further. Her proclamation, to me, is that a woman’s writing is worthy of a room and money. That there is value in a woman’s work, in her creative pursuits, in her mind. Her writing came at a time when female hysteria anxiety was treated with rest and stillness. Her statement is a direct retaliation. Let us out, let us create. Follow Virgina to take your work seriously, to demand compensation and space for your art and passion and for value…of your self. Carve out your own space in here: A Room of One’s Own.
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
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