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The Life and Letters of Kate Gleason

Janis F. Gleason

Publication Year: 2010

Susan B. Anthony called her the ideal business woman of whom she had dreamed fifty years earlier. Playwright Eugene O’Neill saw her as the symbol of greed and emasculating ambition. Kate Gleason, groundbreaking nineteenth-century industrialist, mechanical engineer, and real estate developer, was her own best invention. The truth of her dynamic life, in all of its complexity, is revealed in Janis Gleason’s biography of this legendary American woman.

Published by: RIT Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v

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pp. vii-x

My husband, James S. Gleason, grew up hearing his grandfather’s negative version of Kate Gleason’s contributions to the Gleason family enterprise, but it did not stop him from allowing me full access to the family files held at the Gleason Works...

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pp. xi-xiv

Kate Gleason succeeded in doing what no other American woman had ever attempted. A pioneer in engineering education, machine tool manufacture, banking, and low-cost residential development, she lived by a Latin motto, possum volo—“I can, if I will.” She also lived by the words of Susan B. Anthony, her mother’s great friend: “Any advertising is good. Get...

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pp. xv

I just love this account of a woman who took charge of her own unconventional destiny. To find excitement in doing work that is productive in today’s world is what most of us would like to do. Kate Gleason achieved that in a nontraditional...

Part One Building the Family Business

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1 The Early Years

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pp. 1-8

In the first years of the twentieth century, Kate Gleason built herself a romantic Moorish palace in sedate Rochester, New York. Inspired by the lavish description of the Alhambra in Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s nineteenth-century novel, Leila, or The Siege of Granada, the mansion...

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2 Sibley Sue

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pp. 9-18

Although William sold five gear planers in 1876 and six in 1877, the banking crisis hit Rochester hard, and by 1878 he was hanging on by sheer force of will. Industry and investment were at a virtual standstill. That year the firm sold only a single planer, and the following year...

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3 The Office Boss of the Gleason Iron Works

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pp. 19-26

On September 18, 1888, all the shareholders of the Gleason firm— William Gleason, Amos Walder, Kate Gleason, Alexander Allan, Ferdinand Schwab, John Lauth, and James Henry—gathered to adopt bylaws for a newly formed enterprise, the Genesee Foundry Company, and all...

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4 News from Home

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pp. 27-38

Letters continued between Rochester and Ithaca over the following weeks. William wrote Jim about the business, telling him that he looked forward to having his assistance. “I have been so long in the harness and always on the upgrade,” William wrote, “that I will be more...

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5 Spreading Wings

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pp. 39-50

In the summer of 1889, Jim left Cornell and returned to Rochester, where, he confided to some of his fraternity brothers, he expected to stay on in the family business. Word spread, and many of his friends wrote to...

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6 Myths and Realities

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pp. 51-66

By 1898, the Gleason Tool Company was focusing exclusively on bevel gears, which were used in the flourishing bicycle business. Some bicycle manufacturers were now starting to produce automobiles that incorporated...

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7 The Breakup

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pp. 67-75

By 1905, the relationship between Jim and Kate, so close and supportive in their early years, deteriorated under the stress of managing the business. Kate took a genuine interest in the people she dealt with and was attentive to their business problems; her natural approach was to offer pricing flexibility, a concept that her brothers strongly opposed....

Part two Another Life Given

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8Trailer Cars and Bank Notes

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pp. 77-88

By the fall of 1915, Kate’s horizons had widened well beyond the machine tool industry. Her “Thankfullest Thanksgiving” was as much a celebration of having the means to pursue her dreams as it was of her new life. With war raging on the European continent, machinery orders were pouring in...

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9 Building Up

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pp. 89-102

Kate’s productive activity between 1915 and 1919 would have overloaded a less ambitious and energetic person, and through it all, she was laying the groundwork for her boldest project yet. She had always enjoyed building more than anything else, and since 1914, she had...

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10The Lucky Rover

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pp. 103-112

With her new real estate enterprise in motion, Kate headed back to Europe in June 1924. She sailed aboard the Scythia from New York on Thursday, June 19, accompanied by Lillian Gilbreth and other engineering friends. Lillian was heading to a first-of-its-kind International...

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11 A Woman of Consequence

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pp. 113-122

Kate’s enterprises did not just reach from coast to coast and across the Atlantic. In 1927, she looked south as well, to the seaport town of Beaufort, South Carolina. Libby, a Beaufort native, had been telling Kate stories about the city for three years. Founded in 1711, Beaufort...

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12 Legacy

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pp. 123-130

Kate died a wealthy woman; she had earned every cent of her fortune and left an estate appraised at $1,413,881.55. The value of what she had already given away during her lifetime is largely unknowable. Her will was made public on January 14, 1933. She had signed it the previous...


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pp. 131-134


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pp. 135-143

E-ISBN-13: 9781933360713
Print-ISBN-13: 9781933360478

Page Count: 204
Illustrations: 86
Publication Year: 2010