Manliness and Respectability

Conference in Philadelphia on Nov 19

The Program in Early American Economy and Society Jointly with the McNeil Center for Early American Studies invites you to its 2004-2005 seminar series:

Brian Luskey, PEAES Post-Doctoral Fellow
Manliness and Respectability: White-Collar Workers in Antebellum America

Friday, November 19, 2004, 3 to 5 p.m.
Followed by a reception

The Library Company of Philadelphia
1314 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA

Business clerks of Northeastern antebellum cities were a remarkably large and vital group, registering and contributing to key transformations overtaking the Republic in the three decades prior to the Civil War. The clerking workforce infused immigrants from the countryside and overseas, as well as a small yet significant number of female recruits; moreover, the specialization of mercantile firms required that clerking embrace manual and non-manual labor. As a result, the relationships clerks forged with each other, workers, employers, and customers were all repeatedly and substantially recast. Rising from these reconfigurations were new difficulties for clerks and middling observers who hoped to bolster their class, gender, and racial identities in a volatile and competitive market. Clerks, in particular, had to reconcile the experiences of “white-collar” work with competing notions of manliness. This paper examines a particularly rich but seldom-studied seam in labor history ­ the blurring of headwork and handwork in the antebellum era. Clerks not only added menial and physically demanding porters’ tasks to their writing and bookkeeping responsibilities; they also sold goods to male country shopkeepers and female consumers. Together, these workplace realities drew clerks into broader cultural discussions about gender, race, ethnicity, class, and work, but also situated them precariously between the era’s emergent working and middle classes.

The paper will be posted on the PEAES website ( by November 1, 2004. Everyone coming to the seminar should read the paper beforehand, and then join us for a lively discussion about the author’s findings and arguments.

For more information, please e-mail Cathy Matson, PEAES Director, at For additional information on the Program in Early American Economy and Society and its activities, visit our Web site at