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Legacy: A History of Connecticut Women in Business

by Emily Lindsley

Throughout Connecticut’s history, women have fought the resistance around them to build a business culture that includes women. During the colonial times, when we didn’t have the same legal rights as men, we were the ones who kept the farms, homes, and businesses running. Our contributions have continued to develop since then. As March is Women’s History Month, the Women’s Business Center finds it fitting that we share some of the many stories of Connecticut women in business and how they contributed to today’s business climate.

Elizabeth Colt, born in 1826, was the wife of Sam Colt, the world-famous arms manufacturer and inventor of the Colt Revolver. When he passed at the age of 47, Elizabeth became one of the richest women in the US, earning several million and the control of the Manufacturing Co. Although faced with the death of her husband, deaths of several of her children, and the company being set on fire, presumably by Confederate sympathizers, Colt took action. She rebuilt the company to be stronger, bigger, and more successful than it had been under her husband. She used her wealth and power to play a leading role in countless religious, social, art, and charitable organizations. Inducted into the CT Women’s Hall of Fame: 1997.

Martha Parsons, born in 1869, attended Enfield High School where she earned a teaching certificate. She began her career as a stenographer for the Morgan Envelope Company. Martha eventually become a Secretary at Landers, Frary & Clark of New Britain - the first female business executive in Connecticut to earn her position by merit. She had to sign her envelopes “M.A. Parsons” so other companies didn’t know they were dealing with a woman. Inducted into the CT Women’s Hall of Fame: 2010.

Lillian Vernon, born in 1927, was the first woman to found a company traded on the American Stock Exchange. Her company, Lillian Vernon Corporation, went public in 1987. Lillian was awarded with many honors, including induction into the Direct Marketing Association Hall of Fame, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, Big Brother/Sisters National Hero Awards, and more. How did she get to receive these prestigious awards? It all began when she used $495 of her wedding money to publish an ad space in Seventeen Magazine. Inducted into the CT Women’s Hall of Fame: 1998.

Dr. Manon M. J. Cox, MBA, has been the Chief Executive Officer and President of Protein Sciences Corporation since April 2010. She joined Protein Sciences Corporation in 1998 as Director of Business Development. A strong background in biopharmaceutical development, Manon received a Doctorate in Molecular Biology, Genetics, and Biochemistry from the University of Nijmegen (The Netherlands) and an MBA with distinction from the University of Nijenrode (The Netherlands) and the University of Rochester, (New York). She has received numerous honors, including a Doctorate in Humane Letters honoris causa from St. Joseph University and the Woman of Innovation award from the Connecticut Technology Council. She was recognized recently as one of the 2017 Hartford Business Journal Women in Business winners.

Linda McMahon, the newest Administrator of the US Small Business Administration, was the co-founder and former CEO of both WWE (World Wresting Entertainment Inc.) and Women’s Leadership LIVE LLC. She has been recognized for her numerous business accomplishments, philanthropic contributions, and for her support of women in business. Learn more about her current role in the SBA in the accompanying article here.

Today, the Women’s Business Center is so proud of the small business owners in Connecticut that carry on the memories, accomplishments, and inspiration that began with these women who had to break early barriers. We look forward to continuing to help Connecticut’s small businesses to grow and develop with no limit on success.


  • CT Women’s Hall of Fame website
  • Protein Sciences Corporation website