Turn Your Passion into Profit: HERstory of Black Women Entrepreneurs

Black women entrepreneur success stories are seemingly few and far in between. Because of that, we will be periodically highlighting black women who have surpassed the meaning of success. From the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, we are spotlighting Mrs. Mae Reeves.

“​​In 1940, a twenty-eight-year-old African American hat designer secured a loan from the black-owned Citizens and Southern Bank, and used it open her own hat shop on South Street, the center of black Philadelphia. Mae’s Millinery Shop quickly earned Mae Reeves (1912-2016) a reputation as an exquisite hat-maker. For more than 50 years “Mae of Philadelphia” designed unique and fashionable turban, veiled, and feathered hats created from the world’s finest materials. ​​

​​As her clientele grew, she relocated, eventually settling at 41 North 60th Street as the first African American woman to own a business on 60th Street. Her work drew black and white domestic workers, local church-goers, professional women, and socialites, including Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne. Although Reeves was most known for hat-making, she and her husband were also active in neighborhood politics. Both were members of the local NAACP chapter and on election days, Mae’s Millinery served as a polling station. Until its closing in 1997, Reeves provided Philadelphia’s African American community with employment opportunities, quality goods, and a sense of family.”

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Mrs. Mae Reeves is the absolute embodiment of a successful black woman entrepreneur! She also stayed true to her culture, her family and her community while running and creating in her self owned, creative business. Turning her passion into a profit was not easy as one can imagine, but she did not let society’s definition of entrepreneurship, her race nor her gender, deter her from pursuing her passion and becoming the first black woman business owner on a popular street in a major city.

From this, we can learn that whatever it is that God has given us, gift wise, talent wise and ambition wise, we have to know that we can succeed and push through to a degree of success we could never imagine. We all have a time and a place and with diligence and patience and surely with hard work, we’ll get what we are seeking.

Mrs Mae Reeves had zero of the resources that we have today so the excuses must cease. She, amongst so many others, set the path to follow. Our charge is to pick up our inhibitions, set aside our doubts and turn every single one of our passions, into a profit! If she did it, so can we! Let’s get it!

To your continued success,

Niché + Shameka

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