Black Women Entrepreneurs
Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge, 1838, by the antislavery author Frances H. Green, is one of the few narratives of a free black woman. This picture of Eldridge was the frontispiece. Courtesy Duke University, Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Special Collections Library.
Elleanor Eldridge (1784–c. 1845) stands out as an impressive success story from the beginning of American history. The youngest of seven daughters born to Hannah Prophet and Robin Eldridge, a slave who won his freedom fighting in the Revolution, Eldridge began working as a laundress at age ten following the death of her mother. Industrious and naturally bright, she quickly became adept at arithmetic, spinning, weaving, cheesemaking, and all types of housework. Drawing on her skill with numbers, at age nineteen Eldridge took over her deceased father's estate and quickly opened a business with her sister in Warwick, Rhode Island, weaving, nursing, and making soap. Realizing that investment and versatility were the keys to success, she used their profits to purchase a lot and build a house which she rented out for forty dollars a year. Eldridge eventually settled in Providence, where she opened a profitable business whitewashing, painting, and wallpapering. Her hard work and enterprising nature enabled her to eventually purchase several houses in Providence for rent income. Her Memoirs, published in 1838, is one of the few narratives of the life of a free black woman.