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PNC INSIGHTS Magazine Spring/Summer 2014 Issue
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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:

  • Fundraising by the sale of products and services--the genesis of the bake sale, for instance.
  • Investing in the self-sufficiency of their constituents via education and market development--like the Philadelphia Women's Depository, a sort of headhunting service for domestic female workers--rather than simply offering charity.
  • Raising funds through dues, subscriptions, legacy contributions, raffles and other creative means.
  • Creating "safe havens" and "redemptive spaces"--shelters for abused women, for example--to protect fragile members of society and build their self-reliance.
  • Wielding tools of influence and public opinion, such as petitions, lobbying efforts, media campaigns, consumer boycotts and civil disobedience.
  • Convincing private enterprise that by supporting their [women's] efforts, the enterprises receive tangible benefits.
  • Building national organizations with efficient management structures and broadly distributed publications. For example, Frances Willard, a founding member of The Woman's Christian Temperance Union, served as the "corresponding secretary" and wrote detailed instructions on organizing, publicity and outreach. She also founded The Union Signal, a national magazine dedicated to the cause.

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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