Abstract: Trading Places: Women Offer a Different Take on Downtown St. Paul Business in 1939

Katalin Medvedev


This case study concerns the collaboration between a civic institution and local businesses. Bourgeois area homemakers launched the Women's Institute of St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1939, and held its first event, the biggest fashion show in the Midwest. Following the show's success, the Institute worked closely with St. Paul merchants to revitalize downtown businesses losing revenue to neighboring Minneapolis, which offered wider fashion choices, higher quality, and better services. Cooperation between the Institute and St. Paul merchants quickly turned commerce around, considerably improving sales. The Institute also initiated myriad social, cultural, and civic projects, which served its interests and those of the business community. Framing local growth and increased female consumption as a woman's civic duty and social responsibility created a bridge between women's private goals and communal objectives, leading to economic prosperity and societal progress. The Institute also significantly contributed to the rise of American fashion in the Midwest.

BEH On-Line Paper