Corporate Governance and the Feminization of Capital
52 Pages Posted: 8 Dec 2020
Date Written: December 1, 2020
Between 1900 and 1956, women increased from a small proportion of public company stockholders in the U.S. to the majority. In fact, by the 1929 stock market crash, women stockholders outnumbered men at some of America’s largest and most influential public companies, including AT&T, General Electric, and the Pennsylvania Railroad. This Article makes an original contribution to corporate law, business history, women’s history, socio-economics, and the study of capitalism by synthesizing information from a range of historical sources to reveal a forgotten and overlooked narrative of history, the feminization of capital—the transformation of American public company stockholders from majority-male to majority-female in the first half of the twentieth century, before the rise of institutional investing obscured the gender politics of corporate control.
Corporate law scholarship has never before acknowledged that the early decades of the twentieth century, a transformational era in corporate law and theory, coincided with a major change in the gender of the stockholder class. Scholars have not considered the possibility that the sex of common stockholders, which was being tracked internally at companies, disclosed in annual reports, and publicly reported in the financial press, might have influenced business leaders’ views about corporate organization and governance. This Article considers the implications of this history for some of the most important ideas in corporate law theory, including the “separation of ownership and control,” shareholder “passivity,” stakeholderism, and board representation. It argues that early-twentieth-century gender politics helped shape foundational ideas of corporate governance theory, especially ideas concerning the role of shareholders. Outlining a research agenda where history intersects with corporate law’s most vital present-day problems, the Article lays out the evidence and invites the corporate law discipline to begin a conversation about gender, power, and the evolution of corporate law.
Keywords: Corporate Governance, Shareholding, Separation of Ownership and Control, Stockholder Passivity, Women, History, Capital, Political Economy, Berle & Means
JEL Classification: N00, B54, K22
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation