When the words, “the first African American millionaire woman” are spoken, automatically, almost without thinking, Madame C.J Walker enters the psyche of many. There is, however, another woman, forgotten in the pain, power and unmatched resilience of black history. The name Mary Ellen Pleasant isn't usually recognized by most people; her tireless abolitionist work, philanthropy and numerous businesses, in a time where being a black woman meant living on the outskirts of your own existence let alone being afforded wealth building opportunities, have all but vanished into history’s nebulous haze. Born in Georgia on August 19, 1814 (though this date is debatable) Mary Ellen was taken to the Hussey-Gardner family in Nantucket at a young age after the disappearance of her mother to work as a house slave. The Hussey-Gardners also had a store and it was there she discovered her entrepreneurial spirit. Ending her time in Nantucket, Pleasant traveled to Boston where her and her now husband James Smith became deeply instrumental in the underground helping many slaves reach Nova Scotia to freedom. Eventually, she reached California during the lucrative Gold Rush era and became a millionaire through investments. The businesses of Mary Ellen included livery stables, tenant farms and being a money-lender; though she had to conceal her wealth. In closing, though there's been an erasure of Mary Ellen Pleasant from the annals of history, her devotion to community and entrepreneurial breadth can not be simply blotted out. Both Madame C.J Walker and Mary Ellen Pleasant were women who rose from the shards of destitution and hardship to become not only exceedingly successful women, but, more importantly, they were black women who invested back into their communities and worked ardently for the upliftment of their people.
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