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From Survey to Guide: Women's History in Baker Library's Business Manuscripts Collection

by Clara Bouricius

The first phase of Baker Library's survey of its manuscript collections for women's history materials concentrated on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century records, as well as more recent collections known to contain relevant records. Its results were presented on the Web in Unheard Voices: American Women in the Emerging Industrial and Business Age. The site provided information on women's history materials that were identified within the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century manuscript collections, as well as a bibliography of resources on American women and business.

Finishing the project meant surveying the remaining collections and producing a scholarly "guide" to women's history materials in the manuscript collections at Baker Library. Initially this was to be a paper publication to accompany another version of the Web site. As plans began to gel, however, we realized we had the potential of developing a new research tool—a Web-based guide—which would not only make the paper publication superfluous, but would have the added advantage of being easily expandable.

To complete the assessment of women's history materials, a second survey examined the twentieth-century manuscript collections. These consist largely of the office records of individuals and firms, as well as records of business historians and research projects in business history. We also conducted another review of the more than forty collections of records of manufacturing companies, some of which contain as many as 1,500 volumes and span more than 100 years, well into the twentieth century.

This essay presents the results of the twentieth-century survey and review of labor collections, assesses the impact of the second phase of the project on the conclusions of the first, and discusses the methodological issues surrounding the creation of a Web-based guide to Baker Library's manuscript resources in the history of American women. Women, Enterprise and Society, which is the formal presentation of the survey results, may be read as the project's complete report.

Locating Women's History Resources in Twentieth-Century Manuscript Collections

In the early twentieth century, women emerged into the public eye in all areas, including work, art, and politics. Married women's employment rose steadily. In addition, women became highly visible in cultural imagery, especially as a focal point in advertising. Nonetheless, the issue of women's public presence was contested in American culture during most of the century. This increased, but sometimes problematic, visibility of women in the twentieth century manifests itself in the manuscript collections at Baker Library.

Surveying Baker Library's twentieth-century collections for women's history resources presented different methodological questions from the earlier survey. Though the pre-twentieth-century business economy was segregated by gender, pre-industrial account books and other records of family-based firms and manufacturing companies lend themselves particularly well to a survey for women's history records. Where there are family records, one finds traces of the family, for instance in account books that list women's labor. Moreover, despite a collecting policy that concentrated on business records of firms and business leaders, many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century "private" materials, such as letters and diaries, made their way into Baker Library, intertwined with the family's business records.

For many Americans, however, the workplace separated itself from the home by the end of the nineteenth century as economic practices of many men and women became centered on the office. This shift has major consequences for the presence of women's history materials in business manuscript collections. Increasingly, family and personal papers were kept separate from business and office and were thus not nearly as likely to find their way into the nooks and crannies of Baker's collections. Moreover, library collecting policies, which reflected a similar understanding of separation between private and business records, often led to the division of collections between archives, with only business records coming to Baker Library.

Nonetheless, as the office itself was becoming populated by a large clerical work force—by 1930, more than 90 percent female—women began moving into other areas of the business work force as well. Therefore, despite a greater segregation of records, women might appear anywhere in the collections, and likely would be found everywhere in some fashion.

The office revolution generated a mountain of paper, foreshadowed by the extensive records of nineteenth-century manufacturing companies. It would have been impossible to look at each and every carton, box, and ledger for women's history materials. Instead, all collections with twentieth-century records—and those that had not been surveyed before—were reviewed for materials likely to pertain to women. Of these collections, all office correspondence, personal materials, pay rolls, investment records, advertising materials, scholarly and other research data, newspaper clippings, company policy directives, and records of industrial welfare or human resources departments, were sampled for women's history materials.

Between April and July of 2001, project staff surveyed 113 manuscript collections. Seventy-two collections consisted mainly of twentieth-century office and research records, and the remaining forty-one were records of manufacturing companies, many of which extended well into the twentieth century. Sixty-seven collections were found to have significant women's history materials, evenly divided between the two kinds of collections surveyed. As expected, investment records, personal and financial family papers, office records, advertising and other promotional materials, as well as the large manufacturing collections, documented women's increasing integration into the paid work force and many other areas of public life.

Financial and Investment Records
At least thirteen of Baker Library's twentieth-century business manuscript collections contain financial and investment records for women. By the late nineteenth century, common law restrictions on women's ownership of property had eroded completely. Wealthy families, however, often continued to control women's access to inherited wealth, instead securing the income to them and their children in trusts. A number of twentieth-century family collections, such as the Coolidge Collection and the papers of Louis Kirstein, Vice-president of Filene's of Boston, contain ledgers and other records of trusts created for the women in the family.

Nonetheless, women clearly gained greater control over their finances than they had in earlier years, and some collections contain the financial records, both for household and investments, of women who managed their own money. The women of the Quaker Hallowell Family held their money in their own names; Ella Lyman Cabot played a large role in the investment of her income from family trusts; and the papers of Hayden, Stone, and Company, which contain the records of real estate investment trusts for over forty women, also include descriptions of mortgages on income-producing properties, granted to women themselves.

Office and Professional Work

Click for larger image Rachel Lewis asks for advice on clerical salaries.

"Dear Mr. Tweedy," wrote Rachel Lewis of Lewis Manufacturing Company's Employees' Department in November, 1926, "have you at hand information about the general run of clerical salaries?" Concerned with the fate of longtime office workers at the top of their salary range, Lewis wanted to know how much companies paid "a girl" for different kinds of clerical work, and on what basis increases were determined. Tweedy obliged by sending Lewis' query along to the members of the Manufacturers' Research Association, a mutual aid group of a dozen Massachusetts companies. Their responses, which revealed that a number of companies were interested in rationalizing clerical pay, are included in the Association's research files at Baker Library.

The twentieth-century business collections were largely, and quite literally, produced by women. They not only typed letters and contracts, but also often recorded the extensive financial documentation central to the economy of modern businesses. The most ubiquitous trace of these women is the slashed reference at the bottom of each letter: MP/ph, for example. Ten collections document the work of office managers and private secretaries. Other collections, like that of the Manufacturers' Research Association, record decision-making processes about salary levels and human resource policies for a female clerical work force that was not expected to rise in the organization.

Yet, like Rachel Lewis who was clearly a force in her company's employee management department, many twentieth-century women did move into professional work. Baker Library owns nineteen collections that document women's professional labor. A number of collections, including those of large manufacturing companies, contain records of new industrial welfare and human resource departments which employed social workers, nurses, and women in middle management. In addition, the papers of prominent businessmen like Eli Goldston, President and CEO of Eastern Gas and Fuel Associates of Boston, contain sometimes-extensive correspondence with women educators, writers and editors, artists, and public relations officers.

Social and Political Activism

Click for larger image Scovill Girls' Club July, 1929.

Nineteenth-century women's social and political activism, both volunteer and professional, continued in the twentieth century and is well represented in Baker Library's collections of manufacturing company records. By 1920, for instance, the Scovill Manufacturing Company, which produced brass objects such as buttons, screws, and tools in Waterbury, Connecticut from 1802 to 1956, had a well-developed employee relations structure. The collection contains records of a large number of recreational and social betterment organizations in which women were active, including the Scovill Bulletin, the Scovill Girls' Club, and the Sunshine Fund. The latter was organized and administered in 1924 by Miss N. A. O'Brien, Superintendent of the Industrial Hospital, to raise funds for emergency relief for Scovill employees.

The papers of business leaders also include a variety of resources on women and social or political change. For example, the records of A. Lincoln Filene, President of the Boston department store Filene's, include extensive correspondence with social welfare activist Grace Hodges Bagley and other educational reformers regarding the establishment of a national Department of Education. The papers of Thomas Lamont, international banker, provide documentation for 1930's fundraising campaigns for the Seven Sisters colleges. The collection also includes Lamont's spirited 1936-1944 correspondence with the well-known journalist and columnist Dorothy Thompson.

Promotional and Research Materials, Unique Collections
Baker Library owns a number of twentieth-century collections that offer, often in addition to any materials they might contain on specific women, rich source materials for studying changing ideologies of womanhood. They consist of advertising and popular literature materials, as well as gathered collections and research data on various topics, such as the papers of an extensive productivity study of a Western Electric plant in Hawthorne, Illinois, of which the subjects were mainly women.

Click for larger image "Brighton Beach Girl, 1910," playbill, Brighton Beach Music Hall.

The records of Brighton Beach Music Hall, a popular vaudeville theater in Brighton Beach, New York, in the early years of the twentieth century, include programs and contracts that document the work of women singers, dancers, and other vaudeville and music hall performers. Catering to a mixed-class audience of women, the programs also portray popular ideals of femininity: advertisements for vacuum cleaners and for women's clothing at the Abraham and Strauss department store accompany those for Browne's Brooklyn Business College for young men and women.

The cover of this 1910 playbill features a slender young woman dressed in white sitting on a windy dune looking out over the ocean. Watercolors and a sketchbook, a ribboned straw boater, and a pair of binoculars rest next to her. This independent and healthy "New Woman," undoubtedly a young working woman at leisure, is resolute and secure in her own identity. Her bouffant hairdo and drawn-up knees imply a freedom sharply at odds with the family- and status-centered image of nineteenth-century womanhood.

Records of Manufacturing Companies
The size of many of Baker Library's collections of manufacturing company records, more than half of which are those of New England textile mills, necessitated a closer look at the materials with an eye towards twentieth-century records. Previous women's history research had concentrated on nineteenth-century payroll and other employee records, especially for the textile companies which employed large number of young women from the onset of the Industrial Revolution in New England. The collections, which often include family financial papers, were also found to contain women's financial records, especially in the form of stockholder ledgers, as well as wills and probate records. Moreover, some of the manufacturing collections contain extensive records, dating from the early twentieth century on, of industrial welfare and human resource departments. These files include documentation of women's labor and social activism, strike statistics by gender and marital status, payroll statistics, as well as employee surveys, letters, and employment materials on nurses, librarians, and other service professionals.

Conclusions: Completing Baker Library's Survey of Women's History Resources

Click for larger image Day Book S. Neyle and Thomas R. Hazard, 1761-1825.

The survey of twentieth-century women's history materials in Baker Library yields several conclusions. First, financial and investment records, the papers of business leaders, and the office records of a wide variety of businesses do contain women's history resources. From the contracts of music hall performers, to women's professional correspondence and records of the feminization of the office work force, to records of women's financial lives, the collections together document women's increasing integration into all parts of the economy. Second, while the survey has probably located the most representative and compelling materials, these resources are spread throughout the twentieth-century collections, which will undoubtedly yield more when researched carefully with specific issues and questions in mind.

Perhaps most importantly, the twentieth-century survey both modifies and completes the overview of American women's history resources in Baker Library's Business Manuscripts Collection, begun with a survey of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century materials. With completion of the project, it has become clear that one of its most compelling results is the plethora of documentation of women's property ownership, outright as well as restricted by law or legal construct. The Business Manuscripts Collection at Baker offers a rich resource for the study of gender and the ownership of property, as regulated by law and custom, over the past three centuries.

The specific character of the Business Manuscripts Collection has, in one library, concentrated materials from different areas of the economy, which together document women's participation in the emergence of American markets. One collection sheds light on another. An example: Evidence for women's home production in exchange for cash or goods, known as "outwork" and documented in the account books of a nineteenth-century dry good store, becomes part of the story of the larger business cycle when understood in relation to the records of a wholesale merchant, which include correspondence about the procurement of raw materials and discussions about markets for the women's production.

Click for larger image Passage receipt for textile mill workers, 1859.

Taken together, the collections also provide a long-term view of women's labor contracts in a period of changing legal rights over their wages. Once customary and "understood," as in the day book of an eighteenth-century South Carolina plantation owner who hired out his women slaves, labor conditions began to be spelled out in hand-drawn contracts between a textile manufacturer and nine women weavers, which are part of the same collection. With continued economies of scale, labor contracts became standardized in an 1891-1911 employee register of another textile manufacturer, signed by an agent of the company for many immigrant women, who may or may not themselves have been aware of their rights and duties under contract and law, rather than tradition.

From Survey to Guide: Women's History Resources in Baker Library's Business Manuscripts Collection

Women, Enterprise and Society represents Baker Library's report on American women's history materials in Baker Library's Business Manuscripts Collection, in the form of an archival guide. Creating a scholarly guide that organizes primary materials into chapters or categories necessarily forces an act of interpretation. The challenge to the author is to make this interpretation as transparent as possible to the user, so that today's understanding of the import and meaning of the resources does not unduly prevent tomorrow's researcher from finding the information she or he is looking for.

The logical step for the historian is to organize source materials by period, location, subject, or even type (ledger, account book, diary). However, many of Baker Library's collections encompass different kinds of records, spans of time, or quantities of subject areas. This complicates any straightforward categorization of the materials.

We have, therefore, arrived at a mixed thematic organization of the guide, grouping resources on manual labor, professional labor, finance, law, and civil society. These categories of records are loosely based on the roles women have played in the sweeping transformations of American economic and social life during the past three centuries. Not by coincidence, the categories reflect issues central to the emergence of American capitalism: the creation of laboring and professional classes, the institutionalization of property ownership and law, and the development of the twin responsibilities of American private citizenship: social involvement and mass consumption.

Since many of the collections contain materials relevant to several of these themes, we have cross-listed them freely. In addition, we have indexed the guide to provide more specific or secondary points of access to each collection, such as period, location, and industry. With this diversified presentation of our materials, we aim to provide access in a relatively value-free manner. Women, Enterprise and Society has been designed to be a flexible and useful guide for the researcher, and to give an informative overview to the interested browser.

The Business Manuscripts Collection at Baker Library offers researchers a variety of resources for study of the integral role women have played in American economic and financial life. Records shed light on women as workers and entrepreneurs, as record keepers and as property owners, as public activists and private citizens. The resources identified during this survey project provide a window, as well, on the research potential of business manuscript collections for scholars interested in women's social and cultural history. The acquisition of more twentieth-century materials is certain, moreover, to bring many additional women's history resources to Baker Library. The library's commitment to developing Web-based access will make it possible, in the future, to keep pace with new materials as well as scholarly interests.

Clara Bouricius, Ph. D.
Project Manager
Women in Business Project



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