Research Seminar: Karen Mahar
Location: Copeland Room, Hagley Library.
In the decades after 1890, as large corporations run by salaried managers became a distinguishing feature of economic life, the term “business executive” joined the American lexicon. But even inside business circles it was unclear how to define “business executive” as an occupational category or what traits predicted an executive’s success. This paper examines efforts to define the new American business executive within business literature and popular discourse between 1890 and 1920. It argues that the slipperiness of the term reflected the weight it carried both as a real job and as a symbol of the new corporate order. It identifies multiple strands of masculinized identity associated with the idealized executive (engineering expertise, elite power, and shop floor fluency), and suggests that the emergence of this category during the height of the eugenics movement encouraged linking business leadership with white hypermasculinity.
Karen W. Mahar is Professor of History at Siena College, where she also directs the certificate program in public history. Mahar researches at the intersection of gender, work, and culture. She is the author of “True Womanhood in Hollywood: Gendered Business Strategies & the Rise and Fall of the Woman Filmmaker, 1896-1928,” in Enterprise & Society, and Doing History: An Introduction to the Historian’s Craft, from Oxford University Press. Mahar’s current project considers the role of masculinity in the development of corporate forms and practices during the twentieth century.
Attendees are encouraged to read Mahar’s paper, ‘“The Right Kind of Man”: Masculinity, Identity, & the American Business Executive in the Early Twentieth Century," which may be obtained by contacting Carol Lockman at clockman@Hagley.org.
Free, reply requested, call (302) 658-2400, ext. 243, or email Carol Lockman at clockman@Hagley.org.
Banner Image: Portrait of unidentified man wearing a pinstriped suit, 1920, 2017239_07_387, Series VI, ‘Models,’ Box 7, Folder 387, Frank E. Schoonover negatives (Accession 2017.239), Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum & Library, Wilmington, DE 19807