Place and the Politics of Virtue: clerical work, corporate anxiety, and changing meanings of public womanhood in early twentieth-century Montreal
Women's entrance into corporate offices in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century provided a focus for debate about changing meanings of public womanhood in the 'Modern' city. Working in the financial district, in the heart of downtown, women in clerical professions challenged formulations of respectability which posited public, urban space as threatening to female virtue. Yet the corporations for which these women worked traded quite literally on their reputations, and as such had a great need that their employees of both sexes be understood as respectable and upstanding citizens. Drawing on the popular press and employee files from a selection of key corporations in early twentieth-century Montreal, I examine how women's presence in, and use of urban space was mediated through ideas about 'respectability'. I submit that both corporations and women seeking clerical employment drew on ideas about respectable womanhood based in expectations of corporeal control and sexual restraint, even as these ideas were changing.