Women, finance and credit in England, c.1780-1826
Credit may mean both a way of doing business and the reputation of the individuals transacting it. Both aspects are explored in this thesis. Access to sources of finance for business and the ways in which trade credit transactions took place are amongst the economic issues examined. The cultural aspects of credit, such as trust, personal standing and the language in which this was expressed, adherence to, or deviation from, socially acceptable standards of behaviour, are discussed. Credit is used as a tool of analysis to investigate orthodoxies about women's use of it for business purposes. Small-scale capitalism, with its specific objectives of industrious independence and economic individualism centring on the family firm, provides the organising concept and the explanation for how and why women from the middle ranks of society ran businesses during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Findings, based on the business activities and trade credit transactions of women resident in, or conducting business in, the English West Midlands, reveal their greater participation in the economic community than has been recognised hitherto. Furthermore, they indicate that trade credit transactions between men and women regarding the new consumer goods and services of the first industrial revolution were not an arena for the working out of gender politics. Women belonged to mixed-sex business networks where they were judged, as men were, on the punctuality of their payments and the honouring of their obligations. As a result, the limitations of the existing historiography are shown. Arguments for a specifically female type of credit negotiated between women principally for domestic purposes or that women with capital restricted their economic activity to investment to provide for their non-working existence do not do justice to the 'middling sort' businesswomen whose contribution to the processes of industrialisation is now recognised in this work.