Unexceptional Women. Female Immigrant Entrepreneurs in Mid-Nineteenth Century Albany, New York
Neuere/Neueste Geschichte
Immigrant Entrepreneurship. The German-American Experience in the 19th and 20th Century


Unexceptional Women. Female Immigrant Entrepreneurs in Mid-Nineteenth Century Albany, New York

Referent/in: Susan Ingall Lewis, New York


“She is the pioneer of her own fortune & is a hardworkg woman.” So the reporters for R.G. Dun & Co. (an early credit rating agency) of Louisville, Kentucky wrote in 1875 of retail fancy goods dealer Dora Schultz. Born in Bavaria c. 1840, Schultz was also described as “a woman of und[ou]bted energy,” and a “litigatious” proprietor who kept a stock of “very expensive and costly laces” worth $20,000 (approximately $2,000,000 in today’s dollars). Because the history of mid-nineteenth-century women in the United States has been dominated by the image of the domestic sphere, we might be tempted to see Dora Schultz as exceptional, an assertive woman who was “before her time.” Yet Schultz actually represents tens of thousands of nineteenth-century female proprietors operating small businesses in American cities—many of whom were immigrants, and many of these of German birth or ancestry. Building on my previous intensive analysis of businesswomen in Albany, New York, this paper will highlight the contributions of German-American businesswomen from communities across the United States through a selection of representative stories. In addition, I will present a preliminary analysis of the trades in which German immigrant women engaged, the size and longevity of their enterprises, their average age and marital status, and their regions of origin in Germany, as well as their family and household structures. By exploring both the entrepreneurial opportunities and limitations for nineteenth-century German-American women, this paper will reveal female proprietors as an important part of the German immigrant business community.