Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Mary P. Follett

Mary P. Follett: Creating Democracy, Transforming Management

Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 640
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Mary P. Follett
    Book Description:

    Mary P. Follett (1868-1933) brought new dimensions to the theory and practice of management and was one of America's preeminent thinkers about democracy and social organization. The ideas Follett developed in the early twentieth century continue even today to challenge thinking about business and civic concerns. This book, the first biography of Follett, illuminates the life of this intriguing woman and reveals how she developed her farsighted theories about the organization of human relations.Out of twenty years of civic work in Boston's immigrant neighborhoods, Follett developed ideas about the group basis of democracy and the foundations of social interaction that placed her among leading progressive intellectuals. Later in her career, she delivered influential lectures on business management that form the basis of our contemporary discourse about collaborative leadership, worker empowerment, self-managed teams, conflict resolution, the value of inclusivity and diversity, and corporate social responsibility.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12802-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    More than one hundred years after the publication of her first book in 1896, Mary P. Follett (1868–1933) remains one of our preeminent thinkers about democracy and social organization. Without the benefit of modern research methods, Follett developed such original, penetrating analyses of leadership, power and authority, conflict, and group behavior that her ideas form the basis of much of our modern discourse about organizations and management. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, of the Harvard Business School, has observed that “many so-called new management ideas are previewed in Follett’s work.” Warren Bennis, at the University of Southern California, is even more...

  6. 2 A Childhood That Was Rarely Happy
    (pp. 7-15)

    A few days before her death, Mary Follett read the memoir that her friend Ella Lyman Cabot had written about her own family of origin, the Lymans. The memoir was a portrait of Victorian gentility and grace, where family life was “remote from the world, where all was gentleness, low sounds, headaches, family love, prayers, little jokes, New England economies; where her father read Plato to her mother and brought midwinter violets and camellias from the Waltham greenhouse . . . where everyone loved her . . . where her little sisters planted kisses on all the empty chairs at...

  7. 3 “An Eager, Fearless Mind”
    (pp. 16-26)

    Virtually all of Mary Follett’s friends learned about her early years from the few fragments of experience she chose to share—incidents that must have evoked images of a somber, lonely childhood, since they came to believe that she “missed much that other children had.” The villain of the piece was not her father, who was described as deeply religious and devoted to his daughter, but her mother, who was seen as incompetent, demanding, and “alien” to Mary’s interests.¹ Mary seems to have reacted to the unpredictability of her father’s behavior as children of alcoholics often do: she was forced...

  8. 4 “What Shall We Do with Our Girls?”
    (pp. 27-37)

    “I had been ailing so long,” Anna Boynton Thompson confided in an 1891 letter to her friend Alice Mary Longfellow, “that I had gotten into a morbid condition. My whole attention was fixed upon my self. I watched my feelings with all the energy and faithfulness I possess, and each new one filled me with the greatest alarm. I lived in constant panic, expecting apoplexy, and paralysis, and softening of the brain, and what not, every moment. And the more I watched my sensations, the more strange and alarming they grew. It seems to me that I have run through...

  9. 5 “Very Unusual Privileges”
    (pp. 38-52)

    Mary Follett’s decision to seek a college education was unusual. In the 1880s, less than 2 percent of women aged eighteen to twenty-one enrolled in college, and few of those who graduated were thought to be “agreeable to the fancy of either sex.”¹ The public’s generally disdainful image of college women is captured in this vivid 1883 portrait by a writer forThe Nation.“[The college graduate is] a woman who is undomestic in her habits and unfeminine in her tastes, who takes the initiative in conversation, is perpetually agitating for some ‘cause,’ or ‘reform,’ is ill-dressed and untidy, in...

  10. 6 “The Great Milepost and Turning Point”
    (pp. 53-68)

    Anna Boynton Thompson was responsible for Mary Follett’s year at Newnham, Harriet French recalled—perhaps “not financially” but surely “in every other way.” In the summer of 1890, Thompson made one of her regular summer pilgrimages abroad to study, but this time, instead of sailing alone from New York, she took Follett along. When Thompson returned to America at the end of the summer, Mary decided to stay.¹

    Follett surely was more fortunate than many other women in obtaining opportunities to develop her talents; but first at the Annex and now at Newnham, she could see how the accomplishments of...

  11. 7 The Speaker of the House of Representatives
    (pp. 69-93)

    Follett’s decision to study the Speakership can be attributed largely to the influence of Albert Bushnell Hart.¹ Students in Hart’s research seminars were reminded repeatedly that governmental institutions are “a growth, not a creation” and were required to study the actual functioning of American institutions of government rather than simply acquainting themselves with the intentions of the framers of the Constitution. Each semester Hart provided his classes with a list of appropriate research topics, more than half of which typically concerned “some phase of modern government.”² In addition, he challenged his most talented students to undertake investigations that he deemed...

  12. 8 “To I. L. B.”
    (pp. 94-111)

    Follett had long thought that she would have a vocation as a teacher of American history, but her years at Mrs. Shaw’s School during the early 1890s raised serious doubts about her commitment to teaching. Once Follett had completed her political science lectures and joined the regular teaching staff, she no longer had the luxury of instructing only advanced students; now she had to deal with students who were barely in their teens. This new role surely caused her some insecurity, and Follett responded, as new teachers often do, by running a highly regimented classroom. One of her young students,...

  13. 9 Self-Realization and Service
    (pp. 112-132)

    In 1897, the year before her graduation from Radcliffe, Follett took a position as a clerk in the office of J. Otis Wardwell, a prominent Boston attorney. Surely one attraction of working for Wardwell was that it again offered Follett sufficient reason for leaving her mother and moving into Boston. The first year, she took a room on Worcester Street in the upper part of the South End; the next, she moved to Five Haviland Street, beyond the fashionable Back Bay near the Fenway. Living in furnished lodgings could not have been a very desirable arrangement for Follett, since it...

  14. 10 Ward 17
    (pp. 133-153)

    In 1902, just as Mary Follett opened her Highland Union debating club for young male Irish immigrants, the air was full of urgent warnings and gloomy prognostications from notable political commentators about the problems of city government. Both Lincoln Steffens’s muckraking investigations inMcClure’s Magazineand the more theoretical treatises of the European scholar Moisei Ostrogorski echoed convictions expressed fifteen years earlier in James Bryce’s second volume ofThe American Commonwealth(1888). All these writers, the historian John M. Allswang tells us, were convinced that “the machine politician was corrupt, immoral, and entirely self-serving. Moreover, his power derived from an...

  15. 11 Substitutes for the Saloon, Schools, and Suffrage
    (pp. 154-180)

    Mary Follett’s part in what eventually became a national movement for school and community centers began ironically enough in a project sponsored by her suffrage committee on the “Question of the Saloon.” Virtually all the late nineteenth-century temperance organizations were intent on eliminating the saloon, but Follett adopted a different approach to the drinking problem. She had seen how important a sense of purpose and a feeling of kinship with others had been to her father in his fight against alcoholism, and she had available to her several turn-of-the-century studies of the meaning of the saloon in working-class life. Vowing...

  16. 12 Private Funds for Public Purposes
    (pp. 181-203)

    In January 1909 the front page of theBoston Globeannounced the establishment of a Women’s Municipal League (WML) of Boston. For more than a decade, Mary Follett would exercise creative leadership in the WML. Organized by a group of influential Back Bay women, the league reportedly had no intention of preparing women “for active participation in politics”; nor did it intend “to ascend Beacon Hill to inform the members of the general court what laws are needed for the betterment of the feminine portion of the human family.” The avowed purpose of this new women’s organization was characteristically restrained:...

  17. 13 “My Beloved Centres”
    (pp. 204-234)

    Mary Follett’s contemporaries saw her as both “the leading spirit” and the primary architect of the Boston school centers movement. At a 1937 occasion celebrating the centers’ twenty-fifth anniversary, the first citywide director acknowledged that it was to Mary Follett “more than to any other individual or group of individuals [that] we owe the School Centers of Boston.”¹

    The exceedingly convoluted path that Mary Follett had to travel in her quest for public financial support for school centers, described in detail in this chapter, should dispel any notion that Follett was naive about the difficulties involved in creating “integrative” forms...

  18. 14 The Functions, Financing, and Control of Community Centers: Issues for the National Movement
    (pp. 235-252)

    Even as Mary Follett worked in 1915 and 1916 to stabilize the political and financial position of evening centers in the Boston public schools, she was becoming more widely recognized outside Boston. By 1917 she would be acknowledged as one of the national leaders of the community centers movement. In her work on this national stage, she would directly experience intractable ideological and personal conflicts, regional struggles for power, challenges to freedom of speech, and red-baiting. All these experiences were grist for her forthcoming bookThe New State(1918), Follett’s first systematic explication of her emerging ideas about conflict, leadership,...

  19. 15 The War Years
    (pp. 253-264)

    The year 1917 brought sorrow and anxiety to the Follett-Briggs household as well as pride in professional accomplishments. On February 10, Pauline Agassiz Shaw, Isobel’s great good friend of almost forty years and Mary’s primary patron, died at the age of seventy-six. A “painfully sore-hearted” Isobel, writing to thank Mary Hutcheson Page and her husband for a commemorative sonnet, disclosed that their tribute “unseals the fountain of hot tears, but it relieves, too.” “It is that ‘gratitude unsaid’ that kills me,” Briggs confided, “and yet it seems to me that I was telling her all the time—as much, that...

  20. 16 The New State
    (pp. 265-303)

    In September 1918, after months of intensive manuscript revisions, Follett allowed herself one of her few “larks” of the summer. She celebrated her fiftieth birthday at the summer home of Louis and Alice Brandeis southwest of Boston. Writing to thank Alice for her family’s delightful company and for a meal that included Mary’s favorite food—chocolate blancmange—Follett added a lengthy postscript about the experience of writingThe New State.“In order to write that book,” Follett told Brandeis, “I have had to think everything out pretty carefully & I know now what I would go to the stake for....

  21. 17 Not Neighborhood Groups but an Integrative Group Process
    (pp. 304-328)

    As reviews ofThe New Statebegan to appear, Follett found her most appreciative academic audience among philosophers. The 1919 president of the American Philosophical Association, Hartly Burr Alexander, pronounced himself “in hearty concord” with the “practical programme suggested inThe New State” even though he was a bit suspicious of Follett’s conception of a “liaison-inviting self driven on by the vital impulse to the formation of a social Whole.” Alexander was also impressed by Follett’s ability to weave together threads of ideas from a remarkably diverse collection of thinkers.¹ Indeed, her penchant for drawing ideas from opposing schools of...

  22. 18 “Too Good a Joke for the World”
    (pp. 329-359)

    The Follett-Lindeman collaboration, which resulted in the 1924 publication of Follett’sCreative Experienceand Lindeman’sSocial Discovery,was as stormy as it was productive. About a year into the project, Follett appealed to her frustrated colleague not to “speak again of ‘throwing up your job,’ for it would be too good a joke for the world, while we are teaching everyone how to resolve conflict that we cannot resolve the differences between ourselves. Let us face them and integrate them.”¹

    Mary Follett was familiar with Eduard Lindeman by reputation if not personal contact as early as 1920 because both had...

  23. 19 Creative Experience
    (pp. 360-388)

    Longmans was expeditious in getting Follett’s manuscript into print; by mid-April of 1924 she was sending copies to friends. A year after its publication, the philosopher Harry Overstreet found himself so impressed withCreative Experiencethat he reviewed it a second time. This book has “made a profound impression upon a number of readers,” Overstreet observed, “profound in the sense that its ideas have become actively incorporated in their lives as functioning techniques. This, for the reviewer,” he quipped, “is a rather rare experience.”¹ The ideas expressed inCreative Experiencecontinue to have an impact. Follett’s process of integration, for...

  24. 20 Professional Transition, Personal Tragedy
    (pp. 389-414)

    Mary Follett suffered yet another health-related crisis in the summer of 1924 following the publication ofCreative Experience,but this time she felt so overwhelmed that she could no longer hide her fears and frustrations. She turned to the Cabots for solace, but later felt embarrassed about having imposed herself on them “in a rather weak moment.” Writing to Richard and Ella in late July, Follett announced that she had had regained both her poise and a modicum of health after several weeks with Isobel at Overhills. “I am working, reading etc., staying out of doors a great deal &...

  25. 21 “You Have Been Extraordinarily Helpful to Executives”
    (pp. 415-453)

    More than twenty-five years earlier, Isobel Briggs had persuaded the thirty-year-old Mary Follett to abandon the solitude of Vermont in favor of a life of self-realization and service in Boston’s immigrant neighborhoods. Now, engulfed in grief over Isobel’s death, Follett again sought refuge in service. Committed to giving three spring lectures at the Bureau of Personnel Administration, she resolutely fulfilled her obligation. In these lectures and others that Follett would give from 1926 through 1928, she would apply the principles articulated in her earlier books and lectures to some of the pressing problems of business management. Taken together, these impressive...

  26. 22 “I Am Almost at the Same Moment Happy and Unhappy”
    (pp. 454-478)

    The exuberance with which Mary Follett began her League of Nations adventure in Geneva persisted through the better part of the summer. Writing to LeRoy Bowman, one of her former colleagues in the National Community Centers Association, Follett apologized profusely for failing to be a continuing participant in the community centers movement. “But the fact is,” Mary told him, “that I am being increasingly asked for work in other directions, am made to feel that it is a matter of grave importance to one of the most pressing problems of the world, that of industrial relations, that those of us...

  27. 23 “Prepared to Go or Stay with Equal Graciousness”
    (pp. 479-490)

    In early October 1931, Mary Follett made her first trip back to America in nearly eighteen months. With the stock market crash of 1929 having turned into a severe depression, Follett was increasingly concerned about her finances. Hoping that she might be able to earn some money in the States, she wrote to William Mosher asking if he might want her to give a talk at Syracuse. Mosher sent his regrets, saying that the college had eliminated from its budget most of the funds for outside lecturers.¹

    Follett did accomplish some other objectives. She repeatedly visited the storage warehouse where...

  28. 24 Afterword
    (pp. 491-493)

    Most people who happen upon Mary Follett’s writings and lectures are amazed by her intellectual brilliance and the continuing relevance of her thought, but they also are puzzled by her relative obscurity. Why, they wonder, is Mary Follett not included in the pantheon of twentieth-century intellectuals?

    Follett’s gender surely is one answer. As a woman, Follett had only limited access to the research funds and other resources that would make possible an ongoing, systematic investigation of her ideas. She had no affiliation with a college or university, no graduate degree, and no eager graduate-student assistants and disciples to carry on...

  29. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 494-496)
  30. Notes
    (pp. 497-582)
  31. Bibliography
    (pp. 583-604)
  32. Index
    (pp. 605-624)