The Corporation as Family

The Gendering of Corporate Welfare, 1890-1930

By Nikki Mandell

232 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 15 photographs, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5351-1
    Published: March 2002
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6039-7
    Published: April 2003
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7300-2
    Published: April 2003

Luther H. Hodges Jr. and Luther H. Hodges Sr. Series on Business, Entrepreneurship, and Public Policy

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The beginning of the twentieth century witnessed a remarkable growth of corporate welfare programs in American industry. By the mid-1920s, 80 percent of the nation's largest companies--firms including DuPont, International Harvester, and Metropolitan Life Insurance--engaged in some form of welfare work. Programs were implemented to achieve goals that ranged from improving basic workplace conditions, to providing educational, recreational, and social opportunities for workers and their families, to establishing savings and insurance plans.

Employing the critical lens of gender analysis, Nikki Mandell offers an innovative perspective on the development of corporate welfare. She argues that its advocates sought to build a new relationship between labor and management by recasting the modern corporation as a Victorian family. Employers assumed the authoritative position of fathers, assigned their employees the subordinate role of children, and hired male and female welfare managers to act as "corporate mothers" charged with creating a harmonious household. But internal conflict and external pressures weakened the corporate welfare system, and it eventually gave way to a system of personnel management and employee representation. With the abandonment of the familial model, the form of corporate welfare changed; but, as Mandell demonstrates, its content left an enduring legacy for modern industrial relations.

About the Author

Nikki Mandell is assistant professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
For more information about Nikki Mandell, visit the Author Page.


"An engaging and well-documented analysis of both corporate and social structure in the US. . . . This appealing history will interest and benefit general readers and undergraduate and graduate students."--Choice

"Provides a useful synthesis of the literature on corporate welfare and the development of corporate organization in the period. In addition, its careful treatment of the impact of gender ideologies on the emergence of middle management and subtle handling of welfare work should be of interest to scholars of business, labor, and women's history, class relations, and the history of professionalism."--American Historical Review

"A sparkling and original contribution. . . . [Mandell] treats corporate welfare as a three-way rather than a binary relation, and she offers a thoughtful gender analysis of the whole project."--Journal of American History

"[Mandell's] research is provocative and pushes the historiography of family, business, and reform in the early twentieth century in promising new directions."--Law and History Review

"A lively portrait of the women and men who first sought to manage labor relations, adding a needed dimension to existing histories of management and contributing to a growing literature on gender and business."--Enterprise & Society

"In this pathbreaking work, Nikki Mandell places corporate welfare workers rather than industrialists at the center of her story. In so doing, she moves well beyond usual treatments of corporate welfare programs as merely anti-union devices used by employers to undermine the legitimate grievances of their workers."--Joe William Trotter Jr., Carnegie Mellon University