A woman-owned business in New York in 1870? You bet!
Flamboyant sisters Victoria Woodhull and Tennie Claflin made their mark as famous women in history when they opened a stock brokerage firm of Woodhull, Claflin and Co. in 1870.
Marketing Pays Off
These sisters grew up in brutal poverty. Their father, a snake oil salesman who sold elixirs to cure diseases, billed Tennie as a medical clairvoyant who could cure you by laying her hands on you.
Maybe they had to learn to survive by their brains.
Even before they opened up the doors to their firm, they talked to male newspaper reporters in order to spread publicity. On the opening day of the brokerage, a crowd waited for them. According to The Scarlet Sisters, up to 2,000 people lined the sidewalk to see them arrive.
The sisters were ready for the crowd. They knew they were attractive women, and they arrived in an open carriage.
They both wore the same outfit, but their skirts were short, touching the top of their boots, revealing a hint of ankle. Their jackets with feminine embroidery were nipped at the waist. But the jackets flared at the shoulders, suggesting a male attire. No bustle, no corsets, no trailing skirts. Their clothing showed they were ready to work.
Victoria and Tennie descended from the carriage hearing catcalls, jeers, and shouts. Aided by the police, they swept into their office. A sign outside their door declared, “Gentleman will state their business and then retire at once.”
The sisters cleverly catered to women, a novelty in 1870. Their stock brokerage firm had a private entrance which lead to a female-only room. There, they socialized with women who first came to gawk, but who stayed to invest money.
A woman would not get a seat on the New York Stock Exchange—that is, be able to trade stocks herself—until almost a 100 years later. But these famous women in history–Victoria Woodhull and Tennie Claflin–made their mark.
Source: Thanks to The Scarlet Sisters by Myra MacPherson