The Foundations of Female Entrepreneurship: Enterprise, Home and Household in London, c. 1800-1870, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The Foundations of Female Entrepreneurship

Enterprise, Home and Household in London, c. 1800-1870, 1st Edition

By Alison Kay


202 pages | 13 B/W Illus.

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The Foundations of Female Entrepreneurship explores the relationship between home, household headship and enterprise in Victorian London. It examines the notions of duty, honor and suitability in how women’s ventures are represented by themselves and others and engages in a comparison of the interpretation of historical female entrepreneurship by contemporaries and historians in the UK, Europe and America. It argues that just as women in business have often been hidden by men, they have often also been hidden by the ‘home’ and the conceptualization of separate spheres of public and private agency and of ‘the’ entrepreneur. Drawing on contextual evidence from 1747 to 1880, including fire insurance records, directories, trade cards, newspapers, memoirs, the census and extensive record linkage, this study concentrates on the early to mid-Victorian period when ideals about gender roles and appropriate work for women were vigorously debated.

Alison Kay offers new insight into the motivations of the Victorian women who opted to pursue enterprises of their own. By engaging in empirical comparisons with men's business, it also reveals similarities and differences with the small to medium sized ventures of male business proprietors. The link between home and enterprise is then further excavated by detailed record linkage, revealing the households and domestic circumstances and responsibilities of female proprietors. Using both discourse and data to connect enterprise, proprietor and household, The Foundations of Female Entrepreneurship provides a multi-dimensional picture of the Victorian female proprietor and moves beyond the stereotypes. It argues that active business did not exclude women, although careful representation was vital and this has obscured the similarities of their businesses with those of many male business proprietors.


'This book would be of interest not only to those who want to have more knowledge of businesswomen's history, but also to material culturists, economists, sociologists, and others who are interested in women and their work. It provides thoughtful insight into the interrelatedness of the sociocultural and economic environment of the early nineteenth century and women's entrepreneurial businesses.'Judy K. Miler, Enterprise & Society

‘Strikingly, Kay concludes that the story of women in business is neither a story of a lost golden age, nor one of emancipation, but a story of continuity across history … This book provides the best data yet on businesswomen in London.’Joyce Burnette, Eh.Net

'As Kay's careful study of the London case demonstrates, the constraints on women's public activity in the nineteenth century were not insurmountable. Drawing evidence from a range of sources, Kay uncovers the complexity of women's entrepreneurial activities … Perhaps it is time to reopen the debate on what constitutes entrepreneurship; and whether a gender-neutral approach is possible and desirable.' Katrina Honeyman, Business History

'Kay reclaims not only the title of entrepreneur, but also the economic importance of those 'survivalist entrepreneurs' in the process of industrialisation.'Amy Erickson, Reviews in History

Table of Contents

List of Figures. List of Tables. Abbreviations. Acknowledgments. Introduction. 1. Separate and Suitable. 2. Barriers and Bridges. 3. Insuring Her Assets. 4. Retailing Respectability. 5. A Household of Enterprise. 6. Property, Home and Business. 7. Historical Female Entrepreneurship. Conclusion. Appendices. Notes. Bibliography. Index.

About the Author

Alison Kay began her working life as a business journalist and management analyst before embarking on her doctoral research at Nuffield College, University of Oxford, upon which this book is based. She was until recently Lecturer in Nineteenth-Century British History at Lancaster University, where she has just taken up an Honorary Research Fellowship. She is also an Associate Lecturer in Economics with The Open University.

About the Series

Routledge International Studies in Business History

Recent years have seen an explosion of research in business history. Business history is now seen variously as a key to understanding a vital aspect of the past, a source of parallels and insights into modern business practice, and a way of understanding the evolution of modern business practice. This series is not limited to any single approach, and explores a wide range of issues and industries.

Authors wishing to submit proposals for publication consideration in the Routledge International Studies in Business History series can contact series editors Jeffrey Fear ([email protected]) and Christina Lubinski ([email protected])

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Entrepreneurship
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Gender Studies