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EAUH Conference 2018


Session ZM16 - Rethinking Women in Urban Family Business I (1600-1700) and II (1700-1800) double session.

Coordinators: Ulla Ijäs (, Jarkko Keskinen (

Read Session abstractFor centuries, almost all urban economic activity was family-based and households were also production units. The family business rested on the division of labor among family members. Female family members were engaged in different ways, for example in the sales or in the supervision of workers; or their work for feeding and lodging the staff were economically valuable and even irreplaceable (Stadin, 2004; Vainio-Korhonen, 1998). Women´s role in family businesses or in business families continues to be debatable in the 21st century. There may be some historical path dependencies at play.
This session will present both conceptual and theoretically informed empirical papers addressing the themes relevant for family business, gender and urban entrepreneurs in past: heroic women entrepreneurs, invisibility / visibility of women in business, women’s role in urban entrepreneurship etc. By comparing family firms in several urban settlements between the years 1600–1900 we will find a more coherent picture of women’s participation in family business throughout the centuries and geographical locations.
We suggest that the beginning of the 19 the century seems to form a borderline between the medieval and early modern business communalism and a new ideology of individualism and capitalism that challenged the old social order in the urban business life. The breakthrough of the new individual business model was a long process. Especially in small urban business communities individual merchants or business families could not afford to turn their backs permanently on the other members of the community, despite the tightening reciprocal competition, “selfish” profit-seeking and occasional conflicts.
The session will invite historians, legal historians, cultural historians, business and economic historians to discuss geographical and/or temporal similarities and differences in the development of urban family firms in Europe. We will ask for example how legal cultures, professionalisation, and industrialisation affected women’s possibilities in family business and what were the premises for the family business in different geographical, social and legal cultures.
Keywords: gender; family firms; entrepreneurs; business


Women in business families – from past to present
Kirsi Vainio-Korhonen, Jarna Heinonen