Baker Library's Women, Enterprise and Society

If you think the first women in business were the handful who graduated from HBS in 1963, think again. Women have been actively participating in the American economy for centuries, and Baker Library has the documents to prove it.

Until recently, research on women entrepreneurs or women in business or just on women in general was hard to find. Early 20th-century catalogs did not specifically mention women. As recently as the mid-1990s, Baker Library did not have a clear sense of what, if any, records shed light on female involvement in the development of American business and industry.

Fortunately, that is no longer the case. Thanks to the generosity of an alumna and the Harvard University Women’s Matching Fund, Baker Library initiated a comprehensive survey of the Business Manuscripts Collection to identify materials that would be useful to the study of the historical role of women in business and the economy.

Documents discovered range from 18th-century accounts of female tavern owners to 20th-century office records. Through them, we hear the unique voices of women like Adra Ashley, a 19th-century ship captain’s wife who traveled with her husband on his trading voyages and kept a personal diary in the empty spaces of the ship’s logbook; or like Ella Lyman Cabot, who chastised her stockbroker through correspondence in the 1930s for buying high and selling low.
A selection of the most fascinating and dynamic pieces is currently on display in the Baker Lobby. The exhibition will run through June 14, 2002.

This three-year undertaking has revealed that Baker Library holds a wide range of resources that illuminate a host of women’s history topics. The library staff is pleased to be able to make these resources available for study, and invites the HBS community to take a look at Women, Enterprise and Society.