The Lady and the Accounts: Missing from Accounting History?

By Kirkham, Linda M.; Loft, Anne | Accounting Historians Journal, June 2001 | Go to article overview

The Lady and the Accounts: Missing from Accounting History?


Kirkham, Linda M., Loft, Anne, Accounting Historians Journal


Abstract: Amanda Vickery's, The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England, [1998] provides a challenging and controversial account of the lives of genteel women in provincial England. In this review essay, we consider the implications of her insights and revelations for accounting history research. We argue that her work raises a number of issues concerning what and where accounting took place in the 18th century. In particular, it is suggested that the detailed 'accounts' contained within genteel women's pocket books were a means by which they came to 'know' their household in order to manage their duties and responsibilities. Accounting historians are encouraged to consider these 'private' records as a potentially illuminating source of material on accounting within and without the 18th-century household.

INTRODUCTION

Extract from the title page of Elizabeth Shackleton's [1] Pocket Diary [1776]:

The LADIES MOST ELEGANT AND CONVENIENT POCKET BOOK, For the YEAR 1776.

CONTAINING

Amongft a great Variety of ufeful, ornamental, and inftructive Articles, the following:

The neceffary Pages for Engagements, memorandums, and Expences, ... Poetry, Favourite New Songs fung at the public Gardens; Country Dances; Marketing and Intereft Tables; Rates of Coachmen, Chairmen &c. &c. [quoted in Vickery, 1998, plate 22, p. 126]

Unfortunate Mothers Advice [1761]:

The Management of all Domestic Affairs is certainly the proper Business of Woman; and unfashionably rustic as such an Assertion may be thought, 'tis certainly not beneath the Dignity of any Lady, however high her rank, to know how to educate her children, to govern her servants, to order an elegant Table with Oeconomy, and to manage her whole family with Prudence, Regularity and method [quoted in Vickery, 1998, p. 127].

Advice to the Maidens of London......By One of That Sex [1678]

Know then that my Parents were very careful to cause me to learn writing and Arithmetic, for without knowledge of these I was told I should not be capable of Trade and Bookkeeping and in these I found no discouragement for though Arithmetic set my brains at work [,] Yet there was so much delight in seeing the end, and how each question produced a fair answer and informed me of things I knew not [quoted in Hunt, 1996, p. 58].

Women keeping 'accounts', women 'managing', women 'accounting' in small businesses, 'accounting' in the home, accounting 'for' the home. These quotations, from publications from the late-17th or 18th centuries, by women or for women, raise a myriad of issues concerning who practised accounting, what keeping accounts involved and when and where it took place, prior to the 19th century. What was the role of women in the practice and development of the accounting craft during this early period? What has accounting history revealed about the nature, extent and role of household 'accounts' in the 18th century? When and where was accounting practised, beyond the relatively scarce factory walls or the merchant's office, before the 19th century? Despite their potential to inform the agenda of accounting history research, accounting historians have rarely posited these questions. Indeed, the historical records quoted above have been the focus of researchers in non-accounting disciplines and have emerged as part of mor e general enquiries into the lives of 'genteel' women [Vickery, 1998] or "middling" families [Hunt, 1996].

In The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England, Amanda Vickery [1998] examines the lives of women from 'genteel' society [2] in the period 1700 to 1820 and provides a concentrated account of the concerns and experiences that privileged women were prepared to commit to paper. Through a careful and detailed analysis of the letters, diaries and account books of over one hundred women from commercial, gentry and professional families, she brings into question a number of dominant taken-for-granted assumptions about the experiences and position of genteel women in the Georgian period.

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