In the 1800s, laws were passed that allowed married women to act as feme sole traders, or business owners, independent of their husbands. In many states, this law became necessary because women widowed or deserted by their husbands had few choices. There was no welfare, food stamps or other social safety net to help a woman who had depended on her husband to survive. And because career opportunites for women were limited, opening a business was sometimes the most attractive option.
As a declared feme sole trader, a woman could become an entrepreneur, enter into contracts and conduct other business as an independent person (in contrast to the traditional Coverture laws ) .
The women who took advantage of these laws paved the way for small business owners like me. Today women own about 40 percent of all businesses in the U.S. and the number of women-owned businesses continues to grow.
Part of this growth in women owned businesses may be due to the challenges still facing women in the traditional workforce. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, D.C., white females earn 73 cents for every dollar earned by a white male for doing the same work.
Unfortunately minority women face even bigger challenges. Asian women earn 68 cents, African-American women, 64 cents, Native American women, 58 cents, and Latina women earn 51 cents per dollar earned by white men.
Part of the disparity is due to educational differences, but women, and especially minority women, continue to face stereotypes and discrimination that affect their career opportunitities and earning potential.
We’ve come a long way from the days when women had to fight for equal rights under the law, but obviously we still have a long way to go. Even today, owning a business may be a woman’s best bet for financial independence.