This article is about two generations of women in south-western Chad – the baou déné and the mosso. It addresses the puzzle of how these groups of women are present in the everyday life of the region known as ‘useful’ Chad, while women as economic agents are absent from stories about the region and about successive schemes to make it profitable. The baou déné are wealthy farmers, but the last generation of these ‘women who have a lot of things’ is disappearing. Younger women are referred to as mosso, meaning ‘to fall down’. They are more likely to make a living from small trade than from farming and their lives are defined by precarity. Drawing on a range of historical and contemporary sources, I show how the erasure of women happened in different ways over time. In the colonial era, administrators and travel writers were unable to imagine that women transformed forests into cotton fields. In this century, the idea that women farm just like men was disseminated by oil companies, facilitating land expropriation while drowning out stories of women's marginalization. The baou déné and the mosso are the products of specific historical processes and profit-making schemes, and the silences about women's places in them helped make profits, empire and ‘useful’ Chad possible.