Monday, February 26, 2018

18C Women in Business - Train in Accounting & Business

A Woman Shopkeeper of the 1790s, by an Unknown Artist.

Author Daniel Defoe 1660-1731 argued for the necessity of women being trained in accounting and business skills, such training provided economic benefits to the family, particularly preservation of the family estate in case of the husband's death. Daniel Defoe, The Complete English Tradesman, in Familiar Letters Directing him m all the Several Parts and Progressions of Trade (London, 1727), 29.
The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, (July 1995), 181-202.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

18C Women in Business - Leave Their Business to Daughters

A Woman Shopkeeper of the 1790s, by an Unknown Artist.

Boston retailer Hannah Newman, who ran a shop with her daughter Susannah, bequeathed only paltry sums to her two sons In her will, Newman elaborated on the qualities her daughter possessed that earned her esteem and estate Susannah, Newman wrote, "has been a great Comfort, & Support to me, in my advanced age, & has taken Care of my Business, & by her Diligence & Industry," contnbuted immensely Hannah Newman will, SCPR, 51 657-660.  Male testators in colonial America discriminated against daughters more than female testators.
The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, (July 1995), 181-202.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

18C Women in Business - Wives of Mariners

A Woman Shopkeeper of the 1790s, by an Unknown Artist.

A 1718 Pennsylvania law ordered that the wives of men who went to sea should be considered independent traders with legal rights in court. It was designed to protect women from unscrupulous and absent husbands.
The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, (July 1995), 181-202.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

18C Women in Business - Tavern Owner

A Woman Shopkeeper of the 1790s, by an Unknown Artist.

In New York seven women retailers held tavern licenses for at least one year dunng the period 1757-65, Tavern Keeper's License Book, 1757-1766, New York City, Mayor's Office,
New-York Historical Society.
The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, (July 1995), 181-202.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

18C Women in Business - The Feme Sole Trader

A Woman Shopkeeper of the 1790s, by an Unknown Artist.

Feme sole traders were married women who avoided coverture, a series of legal restrictions that usually accompanied marriage. According to historian Linda Kerber, "Feme sole status was ... a legal gray area" that originated in London merchant custom and was occasionally codified by American colonies or states. In other areas, especially commercial centers like New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston, feme sole status could be secured without statutory sanction, although husbands still had to recognize their wives' independent trading.

The English common law concerning coverture and feme sole status was best described in 1700 in a legal treatise titled Baron and Feme: A Treatise of the Common Law Concerning Husbands and Wives. A feme covert was a woman whom "the Law of Nature hath put her under the Obedience of her Husband, and hath submitted her Will to his." Though "she wants Free Will as Minors want Judgment" the authors pointed out that the feme covert, strictly speaking, was not considered an infant under law. This was because "if a Feme Covert enter into Bond, Non est factum may be pleaded to it; but if an Infant enter into Bond he must plead the special matter that he was under Age." Also, feme coverts could not enter into contracts "without the consent actual or implied of the Husband." The Baron and Feme were often said to be one person in law but they could enter into certain contracts with each other. One of these concerned contracts entered into as a feme sole. Feme soles could "sue without her husband ... but the Action must be laid down within the City." "But every Feme which trades in London," the jurists pointed out, "is not a Feme Sole Merchant." "If the husband meddle with the Trade of the wife," for example, "then she is not a Feme Sole Merchant." However, "if the husband be beyond Sea, or becomes Bankrupt, or leaves his Trade, and the wife exercise the same Trade, or they both exercise the same Trade distinctly by themselves, and not meddle the one with the other, the wife is Sole Merchant."

A pamphlet published in Philadelphia on the eve of the Civil War shows how little feme sole rules changed in the century and half since the publication of Baron and Feme. The compiler of the piece, Thomas Baylis, wrote the pamphlet to help "merchants dealing with married women, and selling them goods, ... [a] quite a common practice." Baylis began by arguing that "the disability of a married woman to contract, so as to bind herself, arises not from the want of discretion, but because her legal identity is merged in the person of her husband." "The husband," Baylis continued, "is not liable for money lent to his wife." Likewise, "a suit cannot be maintained against a married woman for goods sold and delivered, unless she is lawfully trading as a feme sole trader, under the Act of 1718." Feme sole traders, on the other hand, may "sue and be sued, plead and be impleaded at law during their husband's natural lives, without naming their husbands." Just as in England in 1700, in Baylis' Philadelphia, "the main question in ... cases where the husband lives with the wife, and is in and about the business, seems to be: In what capacity is the husband in and about the business?" In other words, is he his wife's agent, employee, or merely trading in her name? The difference between coverture and feme sole status was especially important in contracts for the repayment of money, such as promissory notes. Though of proper form, sometimes promissory notes were declared void because the husband did not sign the note and the contracted debt was not for "necessaries."

Pennsylvania passed an act relative to feme sole traders in 1718. The act was designed for mariner's wives, to protect them, after established in business, from having to pay the debts of profligate sailor husbands. The act also protected "creditors [so that they] may, with certainty and safety, transact business with a married woman under the circumstances aforesaid." A feme sole trader, then, was a married women conducting business on her own, with her husband's permission, but without his aid.

See Temple University.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

18C Women in Business - Women Banking in Early America

 A Woman Shopkeeper of the 1790s, by an Unknown Artist.

Sometime on July 9, 1797, Hannah Holland strode into her bank to get a loan. She learned the next day that her application had been successful but the news barely affected her busy day. The businesswoman had received bank loans in the past and would receive many more in the future. Though a small percentage of all bank customers, women held accounts in many northeastern banks in the early national period. The finding raises doubts about the belief that the Revolution proscribed women's economic behavior but supports the view that, whatever the exact extent of their rights and powers, women remained second-class denizens of early America.

The Revolution and subsequent ideological movements did not prevent women from joining the economy. Important to the colonial economy, women, be they single, married, or widowed, could and did create meaningful niches for themselves as skilled artisans and retailers. Except for certain coverture restrictions, most women could engage in all types of financial contracts necessary to engage in commercial banking. Though a small percentage of all commercial bank customers, women were bank shareholders, depositors, and loan recipients. 

The Revolution created the need to bank and invest for both sexes. Although records are far too sparse to describe women's participation in early banking with any degree of precision, the following survey of women's economic activities in the early national economy shows some women indeed were commercial bank customers, and women were certainly a major class of noteholders. Though exaggerated, the reports that William Duer and his cohorts borrowed heavily from "widows and orphans" in the years and months leading up to the Panic of 1792 seem to have some basis in fact. As early as 1790, for example, Mrs. Elizabeth B. Hatter drew on Duer "at thirty days sight for Four Hundred Dollars ... being on accot. of the Ballance due me [George Reid] by Royal Flint Esq." Duer also involved his wife Kitty in his infamous financial schemes. "Received your letter my dear love, this morng," Mrs. Duer began. "I am sorry it did not arrive in time to have done the Business in Bank on saturday," she continued, adding that she had "managed to take up the notes by borrowing 1100 dols of Rosevelt." Kitty ended her very businesslike letter by informing William: "I am obliged to make large drafts on your cash on acct of the expense of moving." After Duer's failure lead to a minor financial panic, Alexander Macomb's wife pledged that her "own little property shall go towards the maintenance of the Family with pleasure."

Women also bought and sold government securities. Women owned Continental securities. During the liquidity crisis of 1784, widow Marian Maxwell advertised that "Cash, Bills of the New Emission, and any other Security of the State of New-York will be taken in payment, at their current value" for her husband's estate. Philadelphia shopkeeper Ann Robertson instructed her executors to invest the proceeds of her estate "into the funds or public securities," by which she certainly meant the federal bonds Alexander Hamilton created in the early 1790s. Agents heartily encouraged women to buy lottery tickets. Women's benevolent associations, like "The Association for the relief of respectable aged indigent females," invested in equities. From Treasurer Sally Lockwood's report it is clear that the organization gave their wards cash, wood, and tea. The organization paid for these goods from donations, of course, but also received a "dividend on Stock in Mechanics Bank $40.50."

In fact, one of the best investments a widow or young lady could make was in bank stock. Most New York banks, especially early ones, were extremely stable, and, unlike long bonds or leases, their dividends tended to fluctuate in the same direction as general prices. This eased the burden of price inflation. 

Considerable numbers of women owned insurance and bank stock (equities). Eleven of the 89 persons and companies who held stock in the Insurance Company of North America from 1792 until 1799 were women. Similarly, some 53 of the Manhattan Company's first 388 subscribers were women. Of course, at the time of subscription it was not clear to everyone the Manhattan Company was going to be a bank. Many of these women subscribed in order to give the Livingstons, Ludlows, and other families a controlling share of the stock. These women owned the stock outright, however, and could theoretically cast their votes, or give their proxies, to whomever they chose. Women throughout the Northeast invested in the stock of other banks too, of course. A considerable number of women owned stock in the Bank of Pennsylvania in the mid-1790s.

Like other property, married New York women could own bank stock on their own account, and they did not lack the legal support of male attorneys when pursuing their rightful claims. "It is a glorious cause to argue," financier Jacob Barker told attorney Benjamin F. Butler, "being against the Husbands right to dispose of Bank stock settled on his wife by her late father."

Stock ownership often entailed borrowing privileges for men and women alike. Personal records show that women could get discounts at bank, even the Bank of the United States, but the records are not a systematic means of quantitatively determining women's bank use. Extant bank ledgers, though few, yield some limited data regarding the degree of women banking. In 1790, 2.68% of the Bank of North America's almost 1,600 customers were women. A decade later, women composed 5% of the Bank's customer base. 

In 1791, shopkeepers Anne and Sarah Ashbridge wrote 121 checks, mostly to important Philadelphia businessmen like John Chaloner. They met these drafts by making 49 deposits, about one a week, ranging between $50 and $225. That same year, the throughput (credits) of shopkeeper Mary Rhea's account topped $13,500.

In general, women used banks for the same reasons as men: to safeguard money, to make disbursements by check, and to increase liquidity. In other words, women used banks to improve their business and personal finances. Though some women, like some male customers, used the bank only to store funds which they withdrew in cash, most disbursed their credits by writing checks. Many women customers received bank discounts. That is, the bank loaned them money on the security of a promissory note or bill of exchange. This allowed them both to extend their businesses and to conduct their operations more safely i.e. with less chance of insolvency.

Whatever the exact numbers in particular times and places, it is clear that, in New England and the Middle Atlantic states anyway, there were no legal restrictions, outside of coverture, to women's bank use. In other words, women could engage in every type of activity needed to bank. Women could also make, receive, and endorse checks, even epistolary checks. Alexander Hamilton's wife Elizabeth, for example, had the power to draw checks against Hamilton's account in the Bank of the United States.

See Temple University.

Friday, February 2, 2018

18C Women in Business - Historiography of Women's Economic Roles in Early America

A Woman Shopkeeper of the 1790s, by an Unknown Artist.

Everything indicates that, should need arise, there was nothing in the social or economic code of the times to prevent a woman's supporting herself and her family in whatever way she best could. ... As far as general business went, women were to be found buying and selling, suing and being sued, acting as administrators and executors, and having power of attorney, with what appears to be the utmost freedom.

Recent historians have little changed Elisabeth Anthony Dexter's seven decade old conclusions. Women clearly played an important role in the colonial economy. Besides farmers and housewives, colonial women were innkeepers, "she-merchants," artificers, health care providers, teachers, landed proprietors, writers, and printers. Women were also shipbuilders, tailors, shoemakers, bakers, brewers, painters, gilders, and wallpaper hangers, among other occupations.

Colonial women most often made a living in occupations that stressed their traditional female roles as mothers and housekeepers. But the monetization of even the most feminine of occupations transformed "women's work" into a component of the gendered game of wealth accumulation. Women inn and tavernkeepers had to take money and promissory notes from their customers in order to pay their suppliers, for example. The operation of a public house necessitated the hosting of public functions, especially legal and economic ones. Vendues, for instance, were commonly held at taverns, even those owned by women. Seamstresses often developed into milliners and mantuamakers -- fancy seamstresses who resold a stock of value-added goods. Widows and single women could not help but gain a familiarity with finances. In fact, William Dawson ran "an evening school for young ladies" in Philadelphia in 1755 that included instruction in "arithmetick," and "accounts, by way of single entry, in a plain methodical manner."

According to Dexter, "women shopkeepers abounded in colonial days, not only in New York, but throughout the northern colonies. They excited little comment, and received scant mention in the earlier sources." Because she-merchants often took over the businesses of deceased husbands, colonial women sold a wide variety of goods from windows to clothes to wines to groceries. A few women were dry goods importers, the top of the colonial and early national merchants' ladder. One of these was Mary Alexander, the mother of Lord Stirling of Revolutionary War fame. She was a powerful New York City merchant of Dutch extraction. From the 1720s to the 1760s, Alexander lived the life of a wealthy merchant. Worth some £100,000, Alexander dealt in bills of exchange, especially with Barclay and Sons, her bankers in England.

Other colonial women traders were furniture dealers, hardware traders, booksellers, druggists, and tobacconists. Some she-merchants specialized in certain goods. Clothing and seeds were favorite areas of concentration. Women came to dominate certain trades in some areas. For example, six of Boston's eight major seed retailers in 1774 were women.

Although the words "for cash," or "for cash only," frequently appeared in the advertisements of colonial she-merchants, it is clear many women merchants allowed credit. Women shopkeepers were able to extend credit, it appears, because they were able to get credit directly from Britain. But, like their male counterparts, their credit was not unlimited, and they often had to dun debtors for payment. Women's dunnings were firm. One such dunning bluntly stated: "if not convenient to pay the money, to come and bring surety and change bonds into negotiable notes of hand ... and those neglecting will be sued in the December Court." This she-merchant needed cash, and was willing to resort to the private securities market, or the courts, to get it. Women shopkeepers also made their own promissory notes or assigned their debtors' notes to their creditors for collection.

There remains some disagreement about the number of colonial women involved in trade. Elisabeth Dexter estimated about one out of every ten colonial merchants was female. Jean Jordan believed only 2% of colonial New York merchants were women. While admitting "the percentage of eighteenth-century colonial shopkeepers who were women is not clear," Patricia Cleary, who relied on tax records as well as advertisements, thought as many as one in every three shopkeepers were women. While Jordan found only 106 women traders in New York between 1660 and 1775, Cleary found 109 in the 1760s alone.

Historiographical disputes grow more fundamental with the closing of the American Revolution. Several historians who believe the Revolution should have extended women's political rights have tried to explain why women were politically proscribed in the early national era. Although a reduction of the number of women in business, or a large increase in women's political involvement, would have been counter to colonial trends, these studies often also imply women's economic activities were similarly proscribed. That was simply not the case. Whether or not the reaction to women in politics during the early national period was "Thermidorean," or "a deeply gendered one," women continued to play an important role in the early national economy. Most men, in fact, did not find "it impossible to imagine adult women as anything other than wives."

Jean Jordan wrote, with some degree of truth, that after the Revolution, "the colonial type of women merchants -- importer, exporters, wholesalers -- were gone." However, as will be shown below, it is clear that many women traders, though generally of a lesser sort, continued to prosper well after the Revolution. An analysis of Longworth's Directory for 1803 suggests that about 7% of New York City's "traders" were women. Of the Directory's approximately 12,250 names, 1,468 were sampled by manually assigning persons with last names beginning with an 'A' or a 'B' into one of six categories: male trader, male mechanic/laborer, male professional, unidentified females and widows, female trader, or female laborer. Male traders included merchants, grocers, shipmasters, shipchandlers, milliners, tavern or innkeepers, and any man owning a "store" or "shop." Such men composed 30% of the total sample. Male mechanic/laborers included carpenters, butchers, bakers, pilots, cartmen, oystermen, laborers, painters, masons, coopers, shipwrights, tailors, smiths, and others who probably worked primarily with their hands. Such men composed 50% of the total sample. Male professionals included doctors, lawyers, teachers, measurers, corporate officers, architects, constables, and a wide assortment of government officials. Such men composed 8.5% of the total sample. Widows or occupationally unidentified women composed 7.5% of the total sample and 71% of listed women. Female merchants included merchants, milliners and mantuamakers, tavern or innkeepers, and a few teachers and nurses. There were so few of these last groups that their inclusion in the traders group is not statistically significant. These traders (and the few "professionals") composed 2% of the total sample, 21% of the women's sample, and 7% of the "traders" sample. Female laborers included seamstresses and washers. They composed less than 1% of the total sample and only 8% of the female sample. Undoubtedly Longworth's compiler missed many of this last class, or listed them without occupation.

Frances Manges thought the increased complexity of the economy explained "the reason women were accepted in business more readily before the Industrial Revolution than after it." She thought "that the [colonial] economy was so simple that the shop, tavern, or craft could be conducted from, or not far from, the sanctuary of the home." In other words, the movement of economic activity from the home presumably made women's work less socially acceptable. Mary Beth Norton laid the blame on "the republican definition of womanhood." "Woman's domestic and maternal role came to be seen as so important," Norton argued, "that it was believed women sacrificed their femininity if they attempted to be more (or other) than wives and mothers." Many historians writing in this vein have focused largely on upper class women. Recently, Jeanne Boydston has noted this, and questioned why labor, economic, and even women's historians ignore early nineteenth-century lower-class women. Indeed, most women traders, as Mary Roberts Parramore has shown, were of "the laboring class." Her careful study shows that the number of women traders in South Carolina actually boomed after the Revolution.

Parramore's study makes it clear historians have laid too much stress on women in the colonial economy and women in early national politics, and not enough on women in the early national economy. Linda Kerber's survey of early feme sole merchants, for example, was more concerned with women's political rights than with their actual economic roles. Kerber concluded "the feme sole clearly had property rights that she might vigorously protect, [but] she was not permitted to exercise the political rights that theoretically accompanied them." While this conclusion is important, it ignored the feme sole's economic power, and hence her indirect political power. Might not a successful feme sole have influenced her husband's vote? Though precluded from voting, women took an interest in politics. Women could also occasionally voice their political opinions in print. In early 1797, Evah Van Derpsigle, a "Female Reader," and apparently in business, wrote the editor of the New York Diary to express her opinion that President Adams should cancel all treaties, call in all ambassadors, "sell the Mint, stop building the Federal City, raise no Salaries of officers, repeal the Sinking Fund," and buy [redeem] as many securities at the market price as possible and tax the rest. (New York Register of the Times: A Gazette for the Country, 27 January 1797.)

Lisa Wilson Waciega, "A 'Man of Business': The Widow of Means in Southeastern Pennsylvania, 1750-1850," William and Mary Quarterly, (1987)

Lisa Wilson, Life After Death: Widows in Pennsylvania, 1750-1850 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992).

Elisabeth Anthony Dexter, Colonial Women of Affairs: A Study of Women in Business and the Professions in America Before 1776 (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1924)

Frances Manges, "Women Shopkeepers, Tavernkeepers, and Artisans in Colonial Philadelphia," (Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1958)

Miriam Moss, Women and Business (UK: Wayland Publishers Ltd., 1990)

Jean Jordan, "Women Merchants in Colonial New York," New York History, (1977)

Mary Roberts Parramore, "'For Her Sole and Separate Use': Feme Sole Trader Status in Early South Carolina." (M.A. thesis, University of South Carolina, 1991)

Mary Beth Norton, Liberty's Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1980)

Pennsylvania Gazette, 25 March 1755.

Patricia Cleary, "'She Merchants' of Colonial America: Women and Commerce on the Eve of the Revolution," (Ph.D. diss., Northwestern University, 1989)

Patricia Cleary, "'She Will Be in the Shop': Women's Sphere of Trade in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia and New York," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, (July 1995),

J.H. Plumb, "Britain & America: The Cultural Heritage," in The English Heritage, eds. Frederic Youngs Jr. et al, 1st ed. (St. Louis: Forum Press, 1978)

Linda Kerber, "The Paradox of Women's Citizenship in the Early Republic: The Case of Martin vs. Massachusetts, 1805," American Historical Review, (April 1992)

Herman Kroos and Charles Gilbert, American Business History (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1972)

Linda Grant De Pauw and Conover Hunt, Remember the Ladies: Women in America, 1750-1815 (New York: Viking Press, 1976)

Linda Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1980)

James A. Henretta, The Origins of American Capitalism: Collected Essays (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991), 237.

See Temple University.