Gender and business

Women in business or businesswomen? An assessment of the history of entrepreneurial women

Authored by: Helen Doe

The Routledge Companion to Business History

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  December  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415855563
eBook ISBN: 9780203736036
Adobe ISBN: 9781135007836


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Historians of businesswomen face more than a few challenges in uncovering women in business. In order to find them, they must first find the man. For example, William Wright had a ropemaking business in Birmingham in the early years of the nineteenth century. Unfortunately, he was a chronic alcoholic and this meant that in practise it was his wife, Ann, who ran the business while bringing up the children. This fact would not have been apparent except for Ann’s application in 1838 to the local magistrates for an order banning William and leaving her to run the business out of which she would pay him an income (Jenns, 1997, pp. 187–92). So even if a man was feckless, drunk or incapable and his wife in reality ran the business, it was still his name above the door. In 1813 a list of the shipbuilders based on the Thames was provided to parliament for an enquiry into shipping. These were the largest industrial organisations of their time. The clerk who drew up the list included Francis Barnard and son who employed in excess of 400 men, but he made a mistake; the owner and driver of the business was Mrs Frances Barnard (Doe, 2009, p. 179).

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