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Stephanie Holyfield

  • Ph.D. Program, American History
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Stephanie Holyfield

Milligan College, B.A., History, 1994; James Madison University, M.A., History, 2000.

Dissertation Title
Friendly Interest: The Corporate Culture and Development of Welfare Work at Joseph Bancroft & Sons Company, 1885-1965

Dissertation Summary
During the nineteenth century Joseph Bancroft & Sons, a textile finishing firm in Wilmington, Delaware, developed a reputation for exceptional employee relations.  Joseph Bancroft held innovation, independence and initiative in high regard and he encouraged these qualities in the generations of mill workers who grew up in the mill village and staffed his factory.  He and subsequent generations of Bancrofts engaged in a style of corporate paternalism that was influenced by their Quaker values.  Over time the company successfully encouraged long-term loyalty and stability and avoided serious labor unrest.  As the company confronted challenges precipitated by both success and failure, employee relations and welfare consistently remained a high priority.  During the Progressive Era Joseph Bancroft & Sons embraced welfare work as a means of more efficiently continuing traditional practices in a rapidly expanding workforce.

In an age where personal relationships were disappearing in the workplace, the peculiarities of time and place encouraged a distinctive, possibly regional, style of corporate paternalism. Wilmington, Delaware was a small city in a small state where business and social networks frequently overlapped.  Joseph Bancroft & Sons’ corporate culture, with its concomitant focus on employee relations, was shaped and refined by changes in the market and shifting business conditions throughout its operation.   This dissertation will address the development of the company’s distinctive corporate culture.