The Cinderella of Occupations: Managing the Work of Department Store Saleswomen, 1900–1940*

Of all forms of personal services supplied to business enterprise, that of sales workers has perhaps defied the application of “standard” management practices more than any other. Professor Benson shows that this generalization is especially applicable to female department store sales personnel, who were necessarily recruited chiefly from “lower” social classes whose members lacked education and refinement. Thus, regimentation and rote training seemed appropriate. On the other hand, selling style goods to sophisticated female customers involved elements not of a trade but an art, and an attitude of deference, which was not a common trait among working-class girls. Department store managers, almost exclusively male, failed to solve this paradox and, as Professor Benson relates, failed also to deal with the invisible solidarity of female sales persons.