The late Millie Gould is widely remembered as Hamilton’s first lady of fashion – a fierce, entrepreneurial powerhouse whose savvy business sense and keen eye for styles and trends gave life to what became a retail empire.
But beyond her legacy as a design icon was a person who got a deep sense of “nachas”—the Yiddish word for undying pride or satisfaction—from seeing other women succeed.
“My mother believed in philanthropy in general, but in women’s empowerment in particular,” says Millie’s son, Ben Gould. “She got a lot of notches from 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 run a women in business program in Millie’s name at YWCA Hamilton.
The Milli Gould Entrepreneurial Center will act as an education and training hub for women-led businesses, offering a range of services from one-on-one coaching and planning workshops to financial literacy training and digital tools support.
While entrepreneurial programs for women have long existed at the YWCA, CEO Denise Christopherson said the Gould family’s “transformational” gift — intended to be spread over five years — will add additional capacity to the support it already offers.
“This investment just goes a long way to continue our support for the much-needed services for women across southern Ontario,” Christopherson said in an interview. “And just the fact that it’s now named after Millie … she remains such a source of inspiration to so many because of the success she’s had in her own business.”
Indeed, Millie, who died in 2019, embodied the very definition of “self-made,” building her clothing boutique in an era when women in business were not the norm. And she did it on the heels of tragedy, too, with her first husband and daughter dying in a house fire when she was just 25.
“Overcoming obstacles, that’s how she lived her life,” Ben said. “Women starting in the 1960s and ’70s like my mother faced higher hurdles 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 name (Allen Gould), because that’s how it was then,” he said.
It is the idea of lending a helping hand and giving someone a chance in the face of barriers that Ben has inspired his family’s continued support of women in business programs at the YWCA. A Woman of Distinction award winner in 2008, Millie had already shown great commitment to her namesake program before she died by donating $50,000 through the Allen and Millie Gould Foundation.
“When we learned more about the program and met some graduates who had stories like hers, we just felt it was appropriate,” Ben said of the latest gift, the amount of which he declined to disclose.
Benn said the gift is intended to “supercharge” the existing program and give it longevity.
“We see it as an investment, a restocking of the pond — not a handout,” he said, noting more money could be pledged in the future. “We want to give all the women a chance to start their own business, even if it’s small, like my mother started.
“She was very pleased to know that she was helping to launch women into very successful business endeavors.”