Charlotte has a list of accolades a mile long: it’s a business hub with countless economic opportunities, a top-10 city for urban forests, and is one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. Behind the pulse of the city, women are making their mark across every sector. This week, we’re paying homage to the historic women who opened the doors for the female business owners, artists, and political leaders of today. Happy International Women’s Day to these Charlotte champions.
Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
We’ll have to start with the city’s namesake and the reason it’s nicknamed the Queen City in the first place. Meet Queen Charlotte, wife of Queen George III and yes, the real-life inspo for the fictional Queen Charlotte in Bridgerton (P.S. a prequel is on the way). Rumored to be the first known royal with Black lineage, the queen was mother to 15 (!) children and founded many an orphanage during her reign. We also have her to thank for popularizing the Christmas tree; the Queen decorated and displayed a yew tree that later turned to the evergreen conifers we know and love today.
Jane Smedberg Wilkes
Known as the “godmother of Charlotte hospitals,” Jane Wilkes was the city’s very own Florence Nightingale, regularly making the fundraising rounds to help establish hospitals throughout the city. One such institution included the Good Samaritan Hospital, AKA “Good Sam,” the state’s first dedicated healthcare facility for Black patients. It closed its doors in 1982 with a complicated legacy – while it gave Black nurses and doctors a place to learn and practice, it was segregated and very underfunded.
You’ve seen the striking photo: clad in a plaid dress, 15-year-old Dorothy Counts held her head high as she determinedly walked through a mob of protesters to her first day at Harding High. As one of the first Black students in its all-white history, Dorothy and the photo made global headlines. She became a civil rights figure credited with the integration of North Carolina’s schools and still lives in Charlotte, channeling her energy into non-profit work with low-income families and fighting for better childcare resources. Icon status cemented.
Currently serving as the 59th mayor of Charlotte, Vi Lyles has the distinction of being the city’s first Black female mayor. (Breakaway glass ceiling!) She’s named racism as a public health crisis, puts affordable housing at the top of her to-do list, and continues to steer the city through thick and thin, most recently, with the Coronavirus.
Women-Owned Businesses to Check Out in Charlotte
Haylo Healing Arts Lounge – Hayley Moran
Owner Hayley started her journey in 2001 as one of the first female tattoo artists in the city. Her namesake studio has made a mark for offering custom mastectomy tattoo art, with options for realistic renewal work or transforming scar tissue into more fantastical adornments. Hayley’s specialities include black and gray, portraiture, fine lines, and abstract details while apprentice turned resident artist, Catherine, works her artistic magic on melanin rich skin tones.
Charlotte NC Tours – Dianna Ward
Dianna Ward is a force to be reckoned with. She not only founded the popular Charlotte NC Tours which offers segway, bike, and walking tours, she also established Greenville Glides and the InTown Charlotte e-Delivery Service. The latter connects delivery cyclists with e-bikes and provides livable wages. She’s also executive director for Charlotte Joy Rides, an urban bike sharing program that encourages locals and visitors to connect with the city via two wheels. Phew, we need to know her time management secrets!
Cactus Club Co – Ivy Mak + Anna Thomas
Two plant-loving friends, Ivy and Anna, pooled together their mutual love for greenery into what became their signature green mobile – Cactus Club. After roving around the city for a few years, Cactus Club opened their first brick and mortar shop on Central Ave. With cacti as their specialty, the light-filled store also carries houseplants, tropical varieties, rare aroids, and succulents galore.
Dilworth Artisan Station
When it comes to artisans and craft makers, we couldn’t narrow it down to just one or two names. In Charlotte’s SouthEnd, the Dilworth Artisan Station is a former furniture factory slash textile mill turned communal gallery and industrious studio space. It’s home to 30+ artists across three sweeping floors of greatness. You’ll find the city’s coolest independent female artists here spanning fine art, jewelry, industrial design, fashion and more.
The Dumpling Lady – Zhang Qian
Zhang moved to Charlotte from Neijiang, China in 2016 and like many folks, learned how to make traditional food from her grandma’s kitchen. Chef Qian and her team sling six-plus varieties of dumplings at The Dumpling Lady along with Sichuan noodles, scallion pancakes, and smashed cucumbers. Made fresh daily using local ingredients and suppliers, Zhang has made her deliciously spicy mark on Charlotte’s street food scene with two brick and mortar locations and a food truck.
Where to stay: Kimpton Tryon Park
Check out our full series celebrating International Women’s Day by following the tag below.