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City of Clerks

Office and Sales Workers in Philadelphia, 1870-1920

Jerome P. Bjelopera

Publication Year: 2005

Below the middle class managers and professionals yet above the skilled blue-collar workers, sales and office workers occupied an intermediate position in urban America's social structure during the age of smokestacks. Bjelopera traces the shifting occupational structures and work choices that facilitated the emergence of a white-collar workforce. He paints a fascinating picture of the lives led by Philadelphia's male and female clerks, both inside and outside the workplace, as they formed their own clubs, affirmed their "whiteness," and even challenged sexual norms. By mapping the relationship between these workers' self-expectations and the shifting demands of their employers, City of Clerks reveals how the notion of "white collar" shifted over half a century. _x000B_ _x000B_

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: The Working Class in American History


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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p. v

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pp. vii-ix

I began examining the lives of industrial-era clerical workers in Philadelphia while I was a graduate student at Temple University in the mid-1990s. My first intense study of the selling floor and office, however, occurred when I was a teenager working in...

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pp. 1-8

Upon graduating from a Philadelphia business college in 1876, sixteen-yearold T. James Fernley was offered a position as an office boy in a local wholesale hardware firm. He viewed this job as an “apprenticeship.” After spending a year learning the business from the inside, doing basic clerical work, and mastering skills such as salesmanship...

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1. Clerking and the Industrial-Era White-Collar Workforce

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pp. 9-31

Industrialization profoundly influenced American society and culture,1 with mechanization, incorporation, and immigration spurring the expansion of the blue-collar workforce. In the last three decades historians have focused much attention on the men...

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2. In the Office and the Store

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pp. 32-58

Two major fracture lines complicate the description of clerical work experiences. The first line of fracture is the diverse nature of white-collar work. Superficially, a department-store saleswoman seems to have had little in common with a male bank clerk. Nonetheless, significant connections united the work experiences of...

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3. Pursuing "Noble Endeavor": Educating Clerical Workers at the Peirce School

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pp. 59-78

In a 1915 promotional pamphlet Philadelphia’s most prominent business college, the Peirce School, utilized a fictitious student, “Tom Brown,” to guide readers through the school and offer information regarding its physical layout, student services, and academic programs.1 Tom, whom we met in chapter 2, describes Peirce in detailed, glowing...

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4. After Hours: How the Clerical Workforce Entertained Itself

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pp. 79-114

When the workday ended, clerks, bookkeepers, stenographers, secretaries, and salespeople found a multitude of ways to amuse themselves in the City of Brotherly Love. The leisure experiences of clerical employees were in many ways as important to their history as their work was. Prior to the 1890s the men who dominated...

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5. Workplace Virtues, Rebellion, and Race

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pp. 115-141

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, clerical workers were constantly bombarded by messages regarding the nature of the ideal employee. Beginning in high school and in business colleges, and later when they entered the workforce, their teachers and employers reiterated models of ideal behavior in numerous...

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6. Home and Neighborhood

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pp. 142-162

In the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, Philadelphia’s residential patterns changed greatly. Large-scale social and economic currents shaped the city into an “industrial metropolis.”1 Forces such as immigration and industrialization drastically altered the residential landscape of the...

Appendix: Occupational Rankings

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pp. 163-164


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pp. 165-202


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pp. 203-212

E-ISBN-13: 9780252090554
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252029776

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: The Working Class in American History
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OCLC Number: 811410300
MUSE Marc Record: Download for City of Clerks

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Clerks -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia -- History.
  • Clerks (Retail trade) -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia -- History.
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