Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Women of independent means: Female entrepreneurs and property owners in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1869–1904
by Zimmerman, Kari Elaine, Ph.D., Stanford University, 2010, 250; 3395875
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines the variety of economic opportunities for women in late nineteenth-century Rio de Janeiro as well as the institutions regulating female participation in business. Focusing on the problem of how and where women entered the economy in Brazil's commercial and political capital during this time, the project addresses three overarching questions: What were the institutional impediments circumscribing female proprietors and how binding were these constraints? In what areas of the economy did women cluster and how important was their contribution? What were the social roots of female entrepreneurs and property owners? I approach the problem of female economic activity by arguing that despite the gendered restrictions of the Brazilian Commercial Code of 1850, civil law, and reigning social norm, women closely resembled their male counterparts in the most common forms business enterprise.

Understanding both the legal and social parameters of female entrepreneurship is crucial to conclusions on the relationship between working women and the economy. Brazilian commercial and civil law included specific gendered language but actual business practice often contrasted with the prescribed word. Women and men in partnerships followed similar patterns in firm management, capitalization, and industrial organization. Data collected from more than 2,000 partnership contracts suggest that businesswomen in industries such as apparel or foodstuffs reflected typical market trends more than an extension of their natural domestic talents. At the same time, the Commercial Code limited the pursuits of married women only; widows and single females enjoyed the same legal rights as men. The parallels between female and male entrepreneurs also highlight the effects of Brazilian civil law. The state dictated that daughters and sons received equal inheritances and women did not automatically cede control of their personal property to their husbands upon marriage. Examined in isolation, it appears that gender played a limited role in laws governing commerce and property rights. Most proprietresses could engage in unlimited economic opportunities. Incorporating common expectations for women, that privileged domesticity, my project weighs the importance of legal mandate over social norms.

The personal and professional circumstances of female entrepreneurs and property owners provide a unique opportunity to review the effects of political, economic and social change on women over time. Framing my investigation around the period including the abolition of slavery (1888), transition from Empire to Republic (1889) and the modernization of the nation's capital, I question how these events influenced the continuing stream of women into the economy. In order to situate businesswomen within these wider shifts, I join partnership contracts with archival material from slave rental licenses, municipal business registries, judicial and notarial records, contemporary newspapers and travel narratives. Other historical studies of Brazil utilize these sources but none examine the specific circumstances of women of independent means. As the first detailed study of how women engaged in business in nineteenth-century Rio de Janeiro, my dissertation contributes to historiographical debates on women, gender and the economy in Latin America.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Freedman, Estelle
School: Stanford University
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 71/01, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Latin American history, Entrepreneurship, Womens studies
Keywords: Brazil, Entrepreneurs, Property owners, Rio de Janeiro, Women entrepreneurs
Publication Number: 3395875
ISBN: 9781109583687
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