Madison’s pioneering women

Celebrate Women's History Month
Madison’s pioneering women
Judy Faulkner

March is Women’s History Month, a great opportunity to reflect on the positive contributions of women in our backyard.

In 1979, Judy Faulkner launched Epic Systems, the electronic medical records company now worth billions. The company’s economic and cultural impact on our community has been, well, epic–with no end in sight.

In 1986, Pleasant Rowland took $1.2 million in royalties she’s saved from writing textbooks and started a doll company. She sold American Girl to Mattel for $700 million in 1998.

Another lesser known success story is that of Marie Graber, whose father invented a new kind of curtain rod and founded a business around it. Graber, “the first lady in window fashions,” built Springs Window Fashions into an international business still headquartered in Middleton.

The philanthropic legacies of these three icons are as extraordinary as their entrepreneurial ones. Faulkner signed The Giving Pledge, led by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates, to leave 99 percent of her assets to charitable causes. Rowland has given away millions as a patron of the arts, education, community development and more. Graber, who died in 1990, left $15 million to establish a permanent endowment fund at Madison Community Foundation that, to this day, grants about $1.2 million annually to nonprofits throughout Dane County.

Brennan Nardi is communications director at Madison Community Foundation and a former editor of Madison Magazine. Reach her at