Risk, success, and failure: female entrepreneurship in late Victorian and Edwardian England

Paolo Martino, Jennifer Aston
Published Online:
30 Mar 2017
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 70 Issue 3

Additional Options

This article analyses female entrepreneurship in late Victorian and Edwardian England. Traditional views on female entrepreneurship in nineteenth‐ and twentieth‐century England point towards a decline in the number and relevance of women as business owners in comparison to the eighteenth century, and their retreat into a ‘separate sphere’ away from the world of trade and production. Recent studies, however, have deeply challenged this view, suggesting that women still played an important role as entrepreneurs during industrialization and beyond. Nevertheless, a number of questions remain unanswered with regard to the features of female entrepreneurship during these phases of British history, and issues such as scale of operation, attitude to risk, credit structure, and managerial styles are still widely debated. Using original sources, this article provides a novel view on these issues, analysing female entrepreneurship from the perspective of bankruptcy. Analysing statistics on women's bankruptcy derived from Board of Trade reports, as well as a sample of archival cases, this article argues that overall female business owners traded in ways similar to their male counterparts in terms of business size, risk‐taking, and, eventually, success.

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