Monday, January 5, 2009: 8:30 AM
Petit Trianon (Hilton New York)
In 1875, the R.G. Dun & Co. credit reporters of Louisville, Kentucky, said of one Miss Dora Schultz, a dealer in ladies' furnishing goods, that she “is the pioneer of her own fortune & is a hardworkg woman.” Also described as “a woman of undbted energy,” Schultz was a “litigatious” proprietor who kept a stock of “very expensive and costly laces” worth $20,000 (approximately $2,000,000 in today's dollars). Schultz represented a middle tier of entrepreneurial businesswomen who were prominent in mid-nineteenth-century American cities. Though never known on the national stage, and thus forgotten by historians outside of their locality, these individuals stood out in their communities as achieving a far higher profile than the mass of female microentrepreneurs operating tiny groceries, fancy goods stores, and millinery shops. The successes of the mid-tier women's entrepreneurial activities were truly remarkable in their time. Unlike the countless female microentrepreneurs I previously made visible, whose work was unexceptional and taken-for-granted at the time, these mid-tier businesswomen gained fortunes and local prominence. Based on extensive research in R.G. Dun & Co. credit reports and other archival materials, this paper will explore their careers across the country between 1840 and 1885. It will compare notable female proprietors in the east, south, mid-west, and far west to determine if and how region affected female entrepreneurship, and it will demonstrate the extent to which such relatively prominent businesswomen engaged in classic entrepreneurial behavior such as risk-taking and innovation. Their stories complicate notions about nineteenth-century entrepreneurship, introducing characters we have not previously met, and adding a new dimension to our understanding of women's roles in the vibrant urbanizing and industrializing national economy.
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