“Pretty good for doing my own housework, too”: Saleswomen at the Keystone View Company, 1898-1906

Leigh Gleason

Written off as an obscure rarity, the saleswoman outside of retail shops has tended to be neglected in histories of salesmanship. My paper examines female sales agents at the Keystone View Company (1892-1962), who were active in the direct-sales of stereographic photographs between 1898 and 1906.  Although Keystone framed their sales personnel as clean-cut college men, the company also employed a notable number of women, who were often more successful than their male counterparts.  Utilizing letters published in their house organ, the Keystone Review, I will analyze the accomplishments of these saleswomen in order to describe their previously neglected role in direct selling.

Many of Keystone’s women were successful in spite of juggling their sales obligations against running a household. I argue that their successes were likely through innovations in their sales practice.  Because Keystone publicly repressed the role of these women but lauded them in their house organ, my findings point to a true inequality between the perception of saleswomen and reality.  By closely examining Keystone’s saleswoman, this project sheds new light on the little-recognized role of the woman in direct-salesmanship in the early twentieth century.