The enterprising spirit of African American women remains unwavering. From the turn of the 20th century to present day, black women have made great strides in the business world–carving out considerable niches in a broad scope of industries as financiers, haircare distributors, advertising mavens, and entertainment moguls.

Since its premiere in 1970, Black Enterprise has highlighted the achievements of black female entrepreneurs, some of whom have graced our magazine cover, from insurance company pioneer Ernesta Procope, the first female CEO to appear on the be 100s list, to Oprah Winfrey, the first female talk show host to produce and own her own television program and the first black woman self-made billionaire. As of 2008 women owned 50% of some 10.1 million firms according to reports from the research firm Catalyst, of which about 13% were owned by African American women.

African American women have also made inroads within corporate America. The climb has been long and hard for most, with only a few making it to the very top ranks at major corporations. African American women represented roughly 1.1% of all corporate officers as of 2004. Ursula Burns  of Xerox Corp. is the first and only black female CEO at one of the nation’s largest publicly traded companies. Moreover, black women represent just 1.9% of all corporate board directors.

Still and all, African American women have garnered a prominent place in history. The following timeline explores African American women in business and corporate America since the early 1900s.

Maggie Lena Walker
1903 Walker creates the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, and becomes the first woman in the U.S. to become president of a bank. It later merges with two other black-owned banks to form Consolidated Bank and Trust Co.

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