The Business of Charity: The Woman's Exchange Movement, 1832-1900
by Kathleen Sander
University of Illinois Press, 1998
Cloth: 978-0-252-02401-6 | Paper: 978-0-252-06703-7
Library of Congress Classification HD6076.S26 1998
Dewey Decimal Classification 381.1


In the nineteenth century, Woman's Exchanges formed a vast national network that created economic alternatives for financially vulnerable women in a world that permitted few respectable employment options. Many remain in business. 

Kathleen Waters Sander delves into the history of Woman's Exchanges and looks at the women who led the organizations—and those who used them to stave off poverty. One of the nation's oldest continuously operating voluntary movements, Exchanges like the Philadelphia Ladies' Depository and the Dorcas Society were fashionable, popular shops where women who had fallen on hard times could sustain themselves. By selling their handiwork on consignment, they not only earned money but avoided the stigma of seeking public employment. As Sander shows, Exchanges evolved into an important forum for entrepreneurial growth. They also provide an example of how women used the voluntary sector, which had so successfully served as a conduit for their political and social reforms, to advance opportunities for economic independence.

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