As Women’s History Month comes to a close, I’m writing to honor the women who have come before us, recognize our current leaders, and celebrate our future trailblazers.  

Today, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t until 1988, if a woman wanted to start a business in America, she could be required to get the signature of a spouse or a male relative to apply for a loan. That changed when Congress passed the Women’s Business Ownership Act, a civil rights milestone that gave women entrepreneurs access to capital on their own merits. 

In 1900 the United States census listed 531 women in Texas who were merchants and dealers, about one-third of whom were married. A decade later, the figures had more than doubled, and this count did not include the married women who operated small businesses in their homes. 

Currently, the census lists more than 1,076,697 women who own small businesses in Texas, making up 43.2 percent of business ownership. Looking closer to home, women-owned small businesses in SBA’s Lower Rio Grande Valley District account for 42 percent of business ownership and is growing. 

Since 1987, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has celebrated Women’s History Month to recognize women entrepreneurs’ role in building and strengthening local and national economies. 

Some of the earliest recorded businesswomen in the U.S. were Margaret Hardenbroeck, Eliza Lucas Pinckney, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, Mary Katharine Goddard, Rebecca Lukens, and the infamous Marie Laveau. All of them ran businesses in the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s. However, women were almost certainly operating stores, inns, and taverns with their spouses, and some probably inherited those businesses when their spouses died. 

For example, Olive Ann Beech, beginning as an office manager for Travel Air Manufacturing Company, eventually rose to president of Beech Aircraft Company after her husband passed away. During her leadership, the company built more than 7,400 military aircraft during WWII. 

Beech then took the company into the “Space Age,” establishing a research and development facility supplying NASA with cryogenic systems, cabin pressurizing equipment for the Gemini program, and parts for the Apollo moon flights and Orbiter shuttle. Under her leadership, the company’s sales tripled. 

In recent history, there have been even more successful businesswomen. SBA, its resource partners, and the SBA lending network have assisted thousands of female entrepreneurs in South Texas. 

Female entrepreneurs have been leading the pandemic recovery. Yet, despite this tremendous growth, women continue to face challenges and obstacles that men do not when starting and growing a business, especially given the ongoing lack of available, affordable childcare. 

Training is available from all levels at SBA. For example, on-demand training is available on the SBA website, to include a free learning platform for women entrepreneurs called Ascent. The SBA Administrator and many of the program offices host panels, chats and webinars for women.  Moreover, district offices provide regular training on SBA services, government contracting programs, and SBA lending programs, among other topics.   

These and many more resources are available to women, and men, to achieve their small business dreams. I believe women will take the lessons of the pandemic, of ongoing struggles unique to women, the wisdom passed on by the women who came before them, and the resources SBA offers to make the future of business brighter than ever. 

Lastly, please consider this an open invitation to join the SBA for our virtual 2022 Women’s Business Summit scheduled for March 28-30, 2022. Guest speakers include Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary Deb Haaland of the U.S. Department of Interior. For more information and to register, go to

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Angela R. Burton, Lower Rio Grande Valley district director for the Small Business Administration. Burton oversees the agency’s programs and services in 14 counties, including 180,000 small business firms. 

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