Abstract: Profile of an Early American Feminist Economist: The Life and Work of Virginia Penny

Susan H. Gensemer


Virginia Penny (1826-1913) has been identified as one of the two earliest American feminist economists. She wrote a book in 1863, eventually retitled <i>How Women Can Make Money</i>, in which she listed over 500 occupations for women, with their associated wages and qualifications. Penny followed that book with a second in which she addressed many questions of her day, including labor market discrimination against women. This study describes Penny's contributions as a feminist economist. She argued in favor of widening employment opportunities for women, and argued more generally for improved access by women to economic resources. Additionally, this paper outlines, to the extent possible, her life. A few letters, references in books, and numerous newspaper articles are used to piece together the details. Further information about Penny has been derived from genealogical resources such as census and death records. This study is a first attempt to assemble information about Virginia Penny from many sources, constructing a profile of this early feminist economist. The study indicates the difficulties of piecing together profiles, especially of women, or of other people who remain relatively invisible in historical studies.