From the Archives: Women's History in Baker Library's Business Manuscripts Collection

“[O]ur ladies know nothing of the sober certainties which relate to money and they cannot be taught,” wrote Frederic Tudor in 1820, in a sweeping indictment of women's financial abilities that was common for the period. Despite such stereotypes, many women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries participated in commerce, both as merchants and as manufacturers. Because they mainly oversaw small and shortlived concerns, however, their enterprises did not fit into traditional understandings of successful business, either in their own time or later, when the field of business history developed in the twentieth century. As a consequence, when Harvard Business School's Baker Library began amassing business manuscripts, curators generally concentrated on collecting the records of large firms and well-known industrialists. Their big-business bias not only affected what was collected, but also how manuscripts were processed. Search aids and cataloging records did not distinguish materials made by or about women because gender was not a compelling issue for early twentieth-century historians.