Author Claire Gaudiani explores how female social entrepreneurs built the American dream.
Historians have recently made great strides in documenting the untold and all-but-forgotten stories of women who have helped shaped our nation. In her book Daughters of the Declaration, author Claire Gaudiani has taken this effort one giant leap forward. From many disparate accounts, she has woven a convincing, unified narrative of a crucial role women have played in American history: that of social entrepreneur. Like the more familiar men of our history, these great women--Katy Ferguson, Mother Seton, Elizabeth Stott and many more--changed the way American society saw itself and acted upon its beliefs. And they did so without the ability to vote, inherit wealth or even (if married) own property.
Part of Gaudiani's innovation is to apply the relatively recent concept of social entrepreneurship to the 19th and early 20th centuries. Rather than financial gain, social entrepreneurs offer their investors "social profit: improvements in the collective well-being of our communities and our nation." This social-profit sector, now so familiar to us, was developed almost exclusively by women in the earliest years of the Republic. Gaudiani argues that these women took the ideals of the Declaration of Independence only partially addressed by the fledgling federal government--the rights to equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness--and brought them to reality for the least enfranchised members of society: slaves, destitute women and young children. The value of self-determination was reflected through techniques such as:
The book closes with the 1938 passage of the Fair Labor and Social Security laws, which Gaudiani sees as evidence of a national consensus that the rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence are more than abstract ideals. But the movement and lessons hardly stopped there. Daughters of the Declaration offers inspiration for anyone working to reconcile free enterprise and the well-being of all citizens.
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