In 1800s Whanganui 16-year-old Mima Potto inherited her mother's straw bonnet making business, ran it with her sister and branched out into millinery and dressmaking.
When their mother died, the girls had no other means of support. There was no social welfare safety net for them.
Later in life Jemima (Mima) married a butcher who gambled on the horses. By the time she died their property was in her name. She allowed her husband to live in the house until his death but after that it was to go to her children - in case he gambled it away.
"She definitely held the purse strings."
Hers is one of the stories in historian Dr Catherine Bishop's second book, Women Mean Business. Bishop was raised in Whanganui and the book will be launched at Space Gallery at 5.30pm on Thursday, October 3, as part of the Whanganui Literary Festival.
Bishop expects her mother, Janet, and her aunt Helen McLean to be among the crowd.
Now firmly fixed in Sydney, she's using the tour as an opportunity to reconnect with New Zealand, and family.
The lives of women have always interested her. In the 1800s women without other means of support had to be tough to survive. Some were but others weren't.
"There are terrible examples of women turning up in court, asking to be sent to jail, because they were destitute. Even the judge comments that there's something wrong with that."
Often, their miseries were down to husbands who were brutes when drunk.
"I can see why people started doing the whole temperance thing," Bishop said.
Women Mean Business holds the stories of New Zealand women who started businesses between 1840 and 1880, including several from Whanganui. They gathered what resources they had and started pubs, laundries, boarding houses and shops.
"It wasn't just the poor wee widow or deserted wife. There's a whole range."
Whanganui's Clara Rankin had a drapery and fancy goods shop - and possibly a sideline in insurance fraud.
"Her places kept burning down and she kept on claiming."
Jane McDonald was a feather cleaner, who used a poem to advertise her business. She cleaned and dyed feathers to update hats for the new season, and spent time in Melbourne as a fortune teller too.
Sarah Hogg was married to founding Presbyterian minister David Hogg, a very respectable position. But she also kept a drapery shop, had many children and was the family breadwinner.
In times when married men were the owners of all family property, she would take people to court if they didn't pay her.
"Her husband is never mentioned. It's just her. The courts didn't challenge her and she got away with it."
The Papers Past digital archive was a brilliant resource when researching the book, Bishop said, and she also got support from a New Zealand History Trust Award.
Her father was a maths teacher and housemaster at Whanganui Collegiate School, and Bishop spent the first 11 years of her life living in the grounds there. At Whanganui High School her seventh form teacher Tony Woodbury inspired her love of history.
He took the class for a trip through South Taranaki, visiting pās, redoubts and the sites of former battles.
"Lots happens in New Zealand. It might be a small place but there's dramas of all sorts. It just depends on how you tell it."
Bishop studied history and maths at Victoria University, then did a masters degree in Canberra, before an eight-year OE in England. Now back in Australia, she is a post-doctoral research fellow at Macquarie University's Business School in Sydney.
In 2017 she won the Ashurst Business Literature Prize of $30,000 for her first book.
Titled Minding Her Own Business, it was about Sydney's colonial businesswomen.
She has three more projects on the go. She's helping a British colleague edit a collection of stories about 1800s businesswomen worldwide.
"They are South African, Angolan, Turkish, Brazilian, and even women in Chinese piracy."
She also wants to write about a series of World Youth Forums that took place after World War II. Her aunt went to one in London, at the age of 15.
She's especially looking for another New Zealand delegate, Margaret Gillies, who was later a journalist for the Auckland Star.
She also wants to write a biography of missionary Annie Lock, who worked with Aboriginal people in early 1900s Australia.
"It's a project that's been haunting me for 30 years."