Amanda Lyles Weir’s business achievements, including running a St. Paul hair salon, working with her husband in real estate and operating his funeral parlor after he died, would be noteworthy in any age.
Weir, however, was doing all of this in the late 1800s and early 1900s as a black woman and one of the state’s first female entrepreneurs.
She’s one of 12 women who will be inducted into the Minnesota Women Business Owners Hall of Fame in a ceremony on April 24 at Cargill’s headquarters in Minnetonka. She is one of four posthumous inductees, including frozen pizza pioneer Rose Totino.
Weir, who was born before the Civil War and grew up in Illinois before moving to Minnesota, opened her business — Mrs. T.H. Lyles Hair Emporium — in 1880 in downtown St. Paul. Like her husband’s barbershop, Weir’s business offered bathing services, and Weir also sold hair products and rented costumes.
Advertisements for the emporium appeared in African-American newspapers for years, said Jill Johnson, president of Johnson Consulting Services and a 2013 inductee of the hall. She said Weir had the business until at least 1902. After her husband’s death in 1920, she ran the mortuary he had started for several years. Weir died in 1937; Johnson said hall organizers hope to raise enough money to have a memorial marker placed on her unmarked grave.
‘Pounding the door open’
Making others aware of the accomplishments of early and present-day women business owners is one of Johnson’s aims with the hall. “It’s great to introduce today’s entrepreneurial women to these women who pounded the door open and helped to create opportunities for them,” Johnson said.
The Minnesota chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners launched the Minnesota Women Business Owners Hall of Fame in 2013 with a class of 25 inductees. Induction is open to women entrepreneurs statewide and is not limited to association members. Collectively, this year’s inductees totaled nearly 140 years leading companies with more than 2,400 employees, Johnson said.
Johnson has compiled a list of more than 120 potential nominees for the hall. Association leaders and local representatives of the U.S. Small Business Administration select those who will be inducted. The goal is to find women business owners who are “transcendent,” Johnson said.
Inductees this year include Lou Burdick and Sally Sandoe, who in the late 1970s founded Brum & Anderson Public Relations, which through mergers and acquisitions became Padilla Speer Beardsley and now is known as PadillaCRT.
Burdick, who expressed surprise at the honor, said it prompted her to reflect on the support she felt when she launched the firm. “We wouldn’t have put the word on it, but we thought of ourselves as pioneers, carrying the torch for other women,” Burdick said. “So part of this award is remembering some of the wonderful people who supported us as we started.”
Inductee Judith Corson left Pillsbury in 1974 to co-found Custom Research Inc., a national marketing research firm that won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 1996. Corson and her business partner sold the company in 1999. Corson said her induction is “an affirmation of all the people who have come before” when women were less common among business owners and corporate leaders.
“I’ve always believed that men and women can be equal in business,” Corson said. “I try to live the example, rather than be an advocate. … Role models are the best way to walk the talk in terms of what you can do.”
Women-owned firms in Minnesota ranked 34th nationally in a combined ranking of number, revenue and employment growth from 1997 to 2013, according to a report commissioned by American Express OPEN, which cites census and other data. Minnesota had an estimated 146,600 women-owned firms last year.
The expert says: Patricia Hedberg, associate professor and management department chairwoman at the University of St. Thomas’ Opus College of Business, said highlighting Minnesota’s women business owners can help women and men today who are thinking of starting businesses.
“By honoring women who are successful in starting and growing a business, this is going to offer us a unique perspective on their motivations, the organizational cultures they created and why they are successful,” she said, noting that recent research has identified differences in the way women and men think and act in business.
“Minnesota has been known as having an entrepreneurial spirit,’’ she said. “[Women] offer something different to the mix … and we’re exploring the idea that diversity of perspective and ways of operating actually make a business more likely to be successful.”
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.