National Small Business Month is here, which is a great time to highlight the history and impact of leaders who’ve paved the way for small businesses across America. Matern Staffing’s roots, which began in downtown Richmond in the late 60s, are no exception thanks to Ann Duffer’s groundwork.

Growing up in the 80s was a time filled with adventures on bikes and endless hours spent outdoors. It was a carefree era, where my focus was on enjoying the simple pleasures of childhood. However, amidst the innocence of youth, I failed to fully grasp the magnitude of my grandmother’s remarkable career and the trailblazing path she set for women in our community. 

Ann Duffer nursing photoAnn Duffer’s Medical Career

My grandmother, Ann Duffer, wielded formidable force. Her journey began when she graduated from the MCV School of Nursing in 1952 (now VCU). As a nurse, she grew her compassion and dedication in caring for others. But it was her transition into pharmaceutical sales that truly set her apart. In a time when women’s opportunities in the workforce were limited, she became the first female pharmaceutical representative in Virginia. 

Becoming a Business Owner

In addition to her groundbreaking work in pharmaceutical sales, my grandmother established Ann Duffer Personnel, a highly successful employment agency in downtown Richmond in 1967. Starting a woman-owned business in America during that time was a huge feat. According to a 1977 Richmond Times-Dispatch article, U.S. Task Force to Aid Women in Business, Census Bureau data from 1972 indicates that women owned only 4.6% of all American businesses. That’s a drastic change compared to 2021 U.S. Census Bureau data, Annual Business Survey: Statistics for Employer Firms by Industry, Sex, Ethnicity, Race, and Veteran Status for the U.S., States, and Metro Areas: 2021, in which women-owned businesses made up nearly 22% of all American businesses.   

Throughout her personal and professional life, Ann Duffer was not a woman who accepted the status quo. She wanted to make things better and knew that sitting on the sidelines was not the way. Owning a business expanded her network in Greater Richmond and led to a new banking venture.

The Start of the Women’s Bank

In You’ll Love Women’s Bank, Emilie Raymond states that during the 1970s women regularly encountered rejection from traditional financial institutions without the presence of a man to co-sign. During a time when women sought to expand their influence and empower other women across all industries, my grandmother and her colleagues took matters into their own hands and founded the Women’s Bank in Richmond, Virginia on February 14th, 1977.   

Raymond acknowledges that the Women’s Bank wasn’t just a financial institution; it was a beacon of hope and opportunity for women across the region. Beyond offering loans and checking accounts, it provided invaluable services in personal finance, real estate, taxes, investments, estate planning, and small business startup practices. It was a testament to the resilience and determination of these women, who refused to accept the status quo and instead forged a new path for themselves and future generations. 

In speaking with my aunt Jeanne (who was 20 years old in early 1977) about the time leading up to the bank’s opening, she says, “I particularly remember Mom’s determination to find critical board members and raise initial capital to open the bank’s doors. She was so excited when Sally Buck agreed to become President of the bank, Sylvia Clute agreed to handle all the legal issues, and Phyllis Galanti joined.” The Women’s Bank eventually merged with First Virginia Bank in 1984. 

Ann’s Community Involvement

Ann served in many community and business volunteer roles throughout her career. She served as a member of the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Small Business. She was also a former director of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce and the SBA’s Region III Advisory Council. Ann helped form the Richmond Association of Women Business Owners, and she was Virginia’s Women in Business Advocate of the Year.

Ann also headed the Virginia delegation at the White House Conference on Small Business, and she was a former chairman of the Virginia Department of Commerce’s Employment Agency Advisory Board. She was named Richmond Small Businesswoman of the Year in 1985. 

Amid Ann’s bustling enterprise and community involvement, a new chapter quietly unfolded – my own arrival into the world. Just as Ann Duffer Personnel reached new heights, I took my first breaths, completely unaware of the legacy awaiting me.  

Expanding to the Fredericksburg Region

In 1993, Ann expanded her staffing agency into STAT Temps, recognizing the potential in the growing Fredericksburg area. My mother ran the day-to-day operations, adding the familial component. 

During my teenage years in the 90s, consumed by my own world, I was oblivious to the extraordinary network of women I was a part of. These women were not only leaders in their respective communities but also fearless entrepreneurs, determined to carve out their own paths despite the challenges they faced. 

In the early 2000s, Ann retired after more than 40 years in the staffing industry. Before her passing in 2010, she devoted her final decade to establishing a Senior Citizen Center in Chesterfield County, Virginia.

Supporting the Impact of a Legacy

Compilation of photos of Ann Duffer, her agency and Ginni MaternAs I reflect on my grandmother’s illustrious career and my own journey, I can’t help but marvel at the parallels. Like her, I found myself drawn to the healthcare industry and eventually followed in her footsteps into pharmaceutical sales. Our shared experience as staffing agency owners revealed the similarity in our careers.

As I navigate my career and strive to impact my community, I keenly remember the lessons my grandmother taught me. Her resilience, unwavering commitment to excellence, and pioneering spirit continue to inspire me every day. 

In sharing my grandmother’s story with my daughter, I hope to instill in her the same sense of determination and purpose that has driven our family for generations. And as I watch her grow and discover her own passions, I am filled with pride, knowing that the legacy of resilience and achievement that began with my grandmother will continue to inspire future generations. 

In honoring my grandmother’s memory and embracing the lessons of her extraordinary life, I am reminded that our paths are not just our own; they are part of a larger tapestry of strength, perseverance, and legacy. She may not have sought the spotlight, but her impact on our community and beyond is undeniable.

Works Cited 

Raymond, Emilie. “You’ll Love Women’s Bank.” Virginia Historical Society, 2020. 

“U.S. Task Force to Aid Women in Business.” Richmond-Times Dispatch, 1977 June 8, page A-11, Accessed 29 Apr 2024. 

U.S. Census Bureau. “Annual Business Survey: Statistics for Employer Firms by Industry, Sex, Ethnicity, Race, and Veteran Status for the U.S., States, and Metro Areas: 2021.” Economic Surveys, ECNSVY Annual Business Survey Company Summary, Table AB2100CSA01, 2021, owners by gender&nkd=SEX~001:002:003:004:096:098. Accessed 29 April 2024.