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Capital Intentions

Female Proprietors in San Francisco, 1850-1920

Edith Sparks

Publication Year: 2006

Late nineteenth-century San Francisco was an ethnically diverse but male-dominated society bustling from a rowdy gold rush, earthquakes, and explosive economic growth. Within this booming marketplace, some women stepped beyond their roles as wives, caregivers, and homemakers to start businesses that combined family concerns with money-making activities. Edith Sparks traces the experiences of these women entrepreneurs, exploring who they were, why they started businesses, how they attracted customers and managed finances, and how they dealt with failure. Using a unique sample of bankruptcy records, credit reports, advertisements, city directories, census reports, and other sources, Sparks argues that women were competitive, economic actors, strategizing how best to capitalize on their skills in the marketplace. Their boardinghouses, restaurants, saloons, beauty shops, laundries, and clothing stores dotted the city's landscape. By the early twentieth century, however, technological advances, new preferences for name-brand goods, and competition from large-scale retailers constricted opportunities for women entrepreneurs at the same time that new opportunities for women with families drew them into other occupations. Sparks's analysis demonstrates that these businesswomen were intimately tied to the fortunes of the city over its first seventy years. Sparks investigates the motivations and challenges of women who started and managed small businesses in late 19th- and early 20th-century San Francisco. Often motivated by the desire to generate income and profit, but bound by law and custom to act principally as wives, care givers, and homemakers, these women stepped beyond the Victorian image of womanhood and combined the two activities by starting businesses that fit the caretaker paradigm (such as boarding houses, millineries, hair salons, etc.). By joining private/family and public/profit concerns, Sparks argues, female proprietors challenged attempts to separate those two worlds in women's lives. Sparks explores what kind of women started businesses, why they started them, and how they operated them by attracting customers and managing finances, and how they dealt with failure. By focusing on one city, Sparks gives an up-close analysis of how these businesswomen and their enterprises were intimately tied to the fortunes of the city over its first 70 years. Late 19th-century San Francisco was a booming marketplace in which some women stepped beyond their roles as wives, caregivers, and homemakers to start businesses that combined family concerns with money-making activities. Edith Sparks traces the experiences of these women entrepreneurs, exploring who they were, why they started businesses, how they attracted customers and managed finances, and how they dealt with failure. Using a unique sample of bankruptcy records, credit reports, advertisements, city directories, census reports, and other sources, Sparks argues that women were competitive, economic actors, strategizing how best to capitalize on their skills in the marketplace. Late nineteenth-century San Francisco was an ethnically diverse but male-dominated society bustling from a rowdy gold rush, earthquakes, and explosive economic growth. Within this booming marketplace, some women stepped beyond their roles as wives, caregivers, and homemakers to start businesses that combined family concerns with money-making activities. Edith Sparks traces the experiences of these women entrepreneurs, exploring who they were, why they started businesses, how they attracted customers and managed finances, and how they dealt with failure. Using a unique sample of bankruptcy records, credit reports, advertisements, city directories, census reports, and other sources, Sparks argues that women were competitive, economic actors, strategizing how best to capitalize on their skills in the marketplace. Their boardinghouses, restaurants, saloons, beauty shops, laundries, and clothing stores dotted the city's landscape. By the early twentieth century, however, technological advances, new preferences for name-brand goods, and competition from large-scale retailers constricted opportunities for women entrepreneurs at the same time that new opportunities for women with families drew them into other occupations. Sparks's analysis demonstrates that these businesswomen were intimately tied to the fortunes of the city over its first seventy years.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-19

It is with great pleasure that I acknowledge the help and support of the many people who have contributed to this book and its completion. First and fore-most among them is Gary Nash. When I asked him to direct the committee for my dissertation, he replied that he thought it would be fun! It was that intellectual curiosity and enthusiastic support that drew me to him as an ad-...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-21

For most Americans today, the word ‘‘businesswoman’’ brings to mind women who have enjoyed spectacular success in big business corpo-rations. Of course, it is only recently that such female success stories have emerged from what remains a male-dominated business world. Yet female corporate executives are minorities not only in the world in which they cir-...

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Chapter 1. Female Proprietors and the Businesses They Started

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pp. 22-55

In 1888 Mrs. Ann Hudson’s clothing store, on Market Street at Seventh,was situated to draw attention from the San Francisco men who at-tended functions at the Odd Fellows building on the adjacent block. Any of the working-class men who dominated the club’s membership likely found the location convenient, since so many must have walked by it on the way...

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Chapter 2. Why San Francisco Women Started Businesses

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pp. 56-82

The stereotypical entrepreneur was motivated by a desire for riches and independence. But for businesswomen in San Francisco between 1850 and 1920, such dreams provided only brief inducement. Gold, the dust that inspired a worldwide migration to northern California, pulled women into proprietorship during the first decade of statehood. Yet gold’s lure was short-...

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Chapter 3. How Women Started Businesses

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pp. 83-114

Once San Francisco women seized on proprietorship as a way to over-come the economic, legal, and personal restrictions that limited theiremployment choices, they faced the daunting task of getting their businessesstarted. This too was a test of a woman’s capital intentions. For what start-upstrategy she adopted might determine whether or not her enterprise took off...

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Chapter 4. What It Took to Draw Customers

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pp. 115-147

Starting their businesses was only the first of several hurdles that San Francisco businesswomen confronted at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. The next challenge was to attract customers or, in the popular parlance of the day, to draw ‘‘a share of public pa-At first, doing so was relatively simple. In the 1850s, women in San Fran-...

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Chapter 5. Women as Financial Managers

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pp. 148-182

D‘‘ o a good job and the profits will take care of themselves.’’ According to her son Grover, this was the philosophy of Mary Ann Magnin, founder of the elegant San Francisco–based department store, I. Magnin.1 The formula seems to have worked, since the retail chain eventually opened stores in thirty different locations and maintained a reputation as the West’s pre-...

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Chapter 6. When Women Went Out of Business

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pp. 183-202

Although most female proprietors entered the world of business poorly prepared to take on the complicated job of financial management,the marketplace did not wait for them to catch up. Not only were they hurled into a frenzy of daily financial decisions, but many also faced the caprice of business ownership head-on when calamity struck and their fortunes took...

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Conclusion

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pp. 203-208

Capital intentions steered San Francisco’s female proprietors through the vagaries of small-business ownership between 1850 and 1920. This is not to say that women operated their businesses unhampered. In fact, women’s choices as female proprietors, from start to end, were shaped by legal, economic, and family restrictions, sometimes in ways that distinguished these...

Appendix 1: Note on Sources

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pp. 209-212

Appendix 2: Figures and Tables

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pp. 213-228

Notes

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pp. 229-296

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 297-312

Index

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pp. 313-329


E-ISBN-13: 9781469602479
E-ISBN-10: 1469602474
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807830611
Print-ISBN-10: 0807830615

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 13 illus., 2 figs., 13 tables, 1 map
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: The Luther H. Hodges Jr. and Luther H. Hodges Sr. Series on Business, Entrepreneurship and Public Policy