The late Millie Gould is widely remembered as the first lady of Hamilton fashion – a fierce, entrepreneurial force whose entrepreneurial sense and keen eye for styles and trends turned her into a retail empire.
But beyond her legacy as a design icon was someone who gained a deep sense of “nachas”—the Yiddish word for immense pride or satisfaction—from seeing other women succeed.
“My mother believed in charity in general, but especially in the empowerment of women,” says Ben Gould, Millie’s son. “She got a lot out of seeing women succeed in business because she knew how hard it was and is. She went through it herself.”
That’s a big reason the Gould family made what Ben called a “significant investment” this month to promote a woman in business program called National at the Hamilton YWCA.
The Gould National Entrepreneurship Center acts as an education and training center for women-led entrepreneurs, offering a range of services from one-on-one coaching and planning workshops to financial literacy training and digital tool support.
While the YWCA’s women’s entrepreneurship programs have been around for a long time, CEO Denise Christopherson said the Gould family’s “transformational” gift, which will be spread over five years, will add additional capacity to the supports they already offer. does
“This investment only goes a long way to continue our support of these much-needed services for women in southern Ontario,” Christopherson said in an interview. “And just the fact that it’s now named after Millie … She remains a source of inspiration to many because of her success in her business.”
Indeed, Millie, who passed away in 2019, embodied the very definition of “homemade,” building her clothing store at a time when women were not popular in the business. And she did it in the wake of tragedy when her husband and first daughter died in a house fire when she was just 25 years old.
“Overcoming obstacles, that’s how she lived her life,” Ben said. “Women living in the 1960s and 70s like my mother faced higher barriers than they do today, but they still exist in different forms, and our family has always recognized that.”
Ben noted how his mother’s empire began — a family loan of $5,000 “she wouldn’t have gotten without my father’s (Allen Gould) name on it, because that’s how it was at the time,” he said.
It’s this idea of lending a helping hand and empowering someone against obstacles that Ben says inspires his family’s continued support of women in business programs at the YWCA. Recipient of the 2008 Woman of Distinction Award, Millie demonstrated her commitment to her honors program by prehumously donating $50,000 through the Allen and Millie Gould Foundation.
“When we learned more about the program and met some of the alumni who have stories of his, we just felt it was fitting,” Ben said of the latest gift, declining to disclose the amount.
Ben said the gift was meant to “supercharge” the existing program and give it longevity.
“We see it as an investment, a restocking of the pool — not a bailout,” he said, noting that more money will be pledged in the future. “We want to give all these women the opportunity to start their own business, even if it’s a small one, like my mother started.
“She was very happy to know that she was helping women start their own successful businesses.”