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City of Clerks

City of Clerks: Office and Sales Workers in Philadelphia, 1870-1920

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    City of Clerks
    Book Description:

    Below the middle class managers and professionals yet above the skilled blue-collar workers, sales and office workers occupied an intermediate position in urban America's social structure during the age of smokestacks. Bjelopera traces the shifting occupational structures and work choices that facilitated the emergence of a white-collar workforce. He paints a fascinating picture of the lives led by Philadelphia's male and female clerks, both inside and outside the workplace, as they formed their own clubs, affirmed their "whiteness," and even challenged sexual norms. By mapping the relationship between these workers' self-expectations and the shifting demands of their employers, City of Clerks reveals how the notion of "white collar" shifted over half a century. _x000B_ _x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09055-4
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Upon graduating from a Philadelphia business college in 1876, sixteen-year-old T. James Fernley was offered a position as an office boy in a local wholesale hardware firm. He viewed this job as an “apprenticeship.” After spending a year learning the business from the inside, doing basic clerical work, and mastering skills such as salesmanship and bookkeeping, the young man boldly left his employer and founded his own wholesale hardware business, which grew and prospered over the next two decades. Fernley’s speedy rise from office boy to successful entrepreneur differed greatly from the experiences of others toiling behind the desks and...

  5. 1. Clerking and the Industrial-Era White-Collar Workforce
    (pp. 9-31)

    Industrialization profoundly influenced American society and culture,¹ with mechanization, incorporation, and immigration spurring the expansion of the blue-collar workforce. In the last three decades historians have focused much attention on the men and women who toiled in these jobs, but our understanding of the clerks, bookkeepers, stenographers, typists, and salespeople who worked in the stores and offices of industrial America remains partial at best.² Arno J. Mayer offers several reasons American and European scholars have paid less attention to lower-level white-collar workers. He argues that academicians have little sympathy for this social group. Mayer pointedly asks, “Could it be that...

  6. 2. In the Office and the Store
    (pp. 32-58)

    Two major fracture lines complicate the description of clerical work experiences. The first line of fracture is the diverse nature of white-collar work. Superficially, a department-store saleswoman seems to have had little in common with a male bank clerk. Nonetheless, significant connections united the work experiences of these and other clerical employees. From 1870 to 1920 thousands of workers in Philadelphia’s offices and stores found jobs through similar mechanisms and toiled under similar conditions. Clerks, bookkeepers, and department-store saleswomen all worked with information in some way, well before the advent of the “information age.” These employees did not produce goods...

  7. 3. Pursuing “Noble Endeavor”: Educating Clerical Workers at the Peirce School
    (pp. 59-78)

    In a 1915 promotional pamphlet Philadelphia’s most prominent business college, the Peirce School, utilized a fictitious student, “Tom Brown,” to guide readers through the school and offer information regarding its physical layout, student services, and academic programs.¹ Tom, whom we met in chapter 2, describes Peirce in detailed, glowing tones, but one gleans preciously little about him beyond his gender and his youth. His parents still have “the responsibility of selecting a school which will fit him for something definite.”² The pamphlet offers nothing beyond this scanty, skeletal information to flesh out Tom’s background. Few historical resources exist to trace...

  8. 4. After Hours: How the Clerical Workforce Entertained Itself
    (pp. 79-114)

    When the workday ended, clerks, bookkeepers, stenographers, secretaries, and salespeople found a multitude of ways to amuse themselves in the City of Brotherly Love. The leisure experiences of clerical employees were in many ways as important to their history as their work was. Prior to the 1890s the men who dominated Philadelphia’s offices and stores devoted most of their free time to same-sex activities, such as fraternalism. But new forms of entertainment began to emerge with the new century. A broadly based commodification of leisure began to transform the ways that urban Americans played. New business ventures emerged to entertain...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  10. 5. Workplace Virtues, Rebellion, and Race
    (pp. 115-141)

    In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, clerical workers were constantly bombarded by messages regarding the nature of the ideal employee. Beginning in high school and in business colleges, and later when they entered the workforce, their teachers and employers reiterated models of ideal behavior in numerous ways. The content of classroom lectures and workplace sermons has been lost to us, but important sources describing these expectations have survived. Advice columns in employee magazines dispensed detailed images of the model worker. The pages of theStrawbridge & Clothier Store Chatcontained mountains of information regarding the quintessential salesperson. The...

  11. 6. Home and Neighborhood
    (pp. 142-162)

    In the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, Philadelphia’s residential patterns changed greatly. Large-scale social and economic currents shaped the city into an “industrial metropolis.”¹ Forces such as immigration and industrialization drastically altered the residential landscape of the Quaker City. As I have shown, lower-level white-collar workers felt these influences in the workplace, but home was no different. An investigation of the residential patterns of clerical workers in 1870 and 1920 can show how these forces came to alter their housing choices. In 1870 the city was in the early throes of industrialization. By 1920...

  12. Appendix: Occupational Rankings
    (pp. 163-164)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 165-202)
  14. Index
    (pp. 203-208)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 209-214)