Edward Albert Filene, 1929

Edward Albert Filene, 1929

Edward Albert Filene


Edward Albert Filene was a renowned department store magnate, civic reformer, and one of the earliest and most zealous champions of the credit union movement in the United States. Along with his younger brother Lincoln, Edward operated the famous Boston-based department store Filene’s, which they took over from their father, William, in 1891. During the first half of the twentieth century, Filene’s became one of the largest and most successful retail stores in the country, rivaling several of the premier retailers of the period, including Macy’s and Sears & Roebuck.


Edward Albert Filene (born September 3, 1860 in Salem, Massachusetts; died September 26, 1937 in Paris, France) was a renowned department store magnate, civic reformer, and one of the earliest and most zealous champions of the credit union movement in the United States. Along with his younger brother Lincoln, Edward operated the famous Boston-based department store Filene’s, which they took over from their father, William, in 1891. During the first half of the twentieth century, Filene’s became one of the largest and most successful retail stores in the country, rivaling several of the premier retailers of the period, including Macy’s and Sears & Roebuck. Over time, Edward A. Filene established a reputation as an innovative merchandiser and politically progressive employer. He drew upon the ideas of Frederick Winslow Taylor and Henry Ford to introduce the scientific method into his business practices, and he launched the Automated Bargain Basement, an automated markdown system that offered customers quality goods at rates below the competition. As employers, the Filene brothers were exemplars of welfare capitalism and encouraged the formation of the Filene Cooperative Association, an employee-driven “union” that offered benefits and a degree of democratic control of the workplace. As the sons of German-Jewish immigrants, the Filene brothers were part of a tradition of Jewish immigrant merchants and peddlers.

In the end, Edward A. Filene made his most enduring contribution to history through his involvement in the credit union movement. As a proponent of self-help, Filene viewed credit unions (which had their intellectual origins in his parents’ native Germany) as a way for the everyman to obtain credit, capital, and loans at non-predatory rates. Moreover, credit unions also went a long way in combating the anti-Semitic image of the conspiratorial Jewish banker. Though religiously secular since childhood, Filene and much of his cohort of credit union advocates shared the same German-Jewish background, and this introduces the fundamental paradox that the mercurial Filene never quite escaped: despite the prominence he achieved as a secular, non-ethnically affiliated American businessmen and entrepreneur, he still found himself working with people much like himself – members of a class of emerging, German-Jewish business and political elites.

Family and Ethnic Background

Wilhelm Katz, the Filene family patriarch and father to Edward, was born in Posen, Prussia, in 1830. At the time, Posen was located in far eastern Prussia and was situated along the historically precarious and unstable border with Poland.[1] In the first half of the nineteenth century, Posen boasted an ethnically and religiously heterogeneous population, with a Polish-Catholic majority, a large population of ethnic Germans, and a German-speaking Jewish minority. Wilhelm Katz was the second son of a relatively prosperous German-Jewish ribbon merchant. Wilhelm’s father intended for both of his sons to study law in Berlin, but soon after Wilhelm and his older brother Rudolph arrived there in 1847, the latter fell ill and died. Grief-stricken, Wilhelm abandoned his studies and returned to Posen to contemplate his future.

In 1848, as Wilhelm grieved the loss of his brother, revolutionary ferment rocked Western and Central Europe. The Revolutions of 1848 spurred a mass exodus of German speakers, including a large number of revolutionaries and democrats, many of whom, like Karl Marx, immigrated to England. Others journeyed across the Atlantic and landed in the United States. Wilhelm, who as Edward recalled, was liberal and perhaps even radical in his youth, did not take part in the revolutions but had certainly been affected by them.[2] A couple of years later, he left his homeland and became part of the great wave of German-Jewish emigration out of Central Europe during the period from 1840 to 1865.

Emigration was far from rare among the Jewish residents of Posen. Indeed, after Bavaria, Posen was the second most important source of Jewish immigration to the United States.[3] All told, an estimated 20,000 Jews from Posen and West Prussia immigrated to the United States between 1840 and 1860, with most leaving during the 1850s.[4] Like many German-speaking Jews of the period, Wilhelm Katz sought economic, social, and political protections that were often lacking within Prussia’s borders. In 1853, the Vossische Zeitung explained the reasons for the emigration of Posen’s Jews as follows: “Who would blame the more prosperous Jews for preferring the democratic institutions of America and leaving a province where . . . they cannot disregard their feelings of insecurity about their present and future?”[5] Most likely, it was precisely this feeling of insecurity that prompted Wilhelm Katz to move to the United States. After a brief stopover in Manchester, England, he arrived in New York City sometime in 1850.[6]

Upon arriving in the United States, Katz was immediately struck by the contentiousness that characterized American-style democracy in the 1850s. He developed an intense interest in American politics, became an abolitionist and a Free-Soiler, and came to admire the new rising star of American politics, Abraham Lincoln. Quick to adapt to his new surroundings, Katz learned English. Having arrived with little capital, he worked at various odd jobs and as a peddler, tailor, and glazier. He also concluded that he needed to change his name in order to acculturate to his new surroundings. He Anglicized his first name to William, and changed his last name to Filene.[7] It remains unclear why he chose the name Filene, but Filene family biographer George Berkley noted the similarity between the name Filene and the word feline, with feline being the equivalent of the German word for cat, Katz. In changing his name, young Wilhelm Katz was by no means atypical. During the mid-nineteenth century, the possession of a German-Jewish name invited dual stereotyping: first as a non-American, and second as a non-Christian.[8]

In 1851, Filene moved to Boston, which was home to a small, close-knit, emerging German-Jewish community.[9] That year, he used his accumulated earnings to open his first downtown store, the modest W. Filene & Co., Tailors and Drapers. While in Boston, he met the Conrads, a family of German Jews who helped him open a “Fancy Goods” store in Salem, Massachusetts. In 1856, William Filene attended a party in Hartford, Connecticut, where he met twenty-three year-old Clara Ballin. Like William, Clara was a German Jew. She was born in 1833 in Segnitz-am-Main, Bavaria, and came from a family of some means. Her privileged upbringing had allowed her to acquire an education, study under a private tutor, and attend a local private academy. The Ballin family was also part of a transnational kinship network of German-Jewish retailers and producers. One branch of the Ballin family owned a factory in New York, and this connection afforded Clara the opportunity to learn English in the United States while lodging with an uncle. Clara took a liking to the young entrepreneur. A courtship ensued and the couple married in 1858. Though they occasionally traveled back to their native land to see friends and relatives, the Filene family had left the Old World behind; they were in the United States to stay.[10]

William and Clara had five children over the next seven years, four boys, and one girl. Edward Albert Filene was born on September 3, 1860, in Salem, Massachusetts, the second of five children. He was named after Edward Albert, the Prince of Wales, who was touring the United States at the time of his birth. Edward’s youngest sibling and future business collaborator, Abraham Lincoln Filene (later in life, he dropped the first name Abraham) was born five years later, on April 5, 1865, just nine days before his namesake was assassinated in Ford’s Theater. The remaining Filene siblings were Rudolf, Bertram, and Emma. Of the five, only Edward and Lincoln developed an interest in and an aptitude for retailing and business.

As the Filene family grew, William Filene’s various retail operations enjoyed moments of prosperity as well as periodic setbacks, as he and other retailers navigated post-Civil War economic fluctuations. In 1863, William purchased a wholesale business in New York and commuted weekly between Boston and New York, before eventually moving the entire family there. In the wake of the financial panic of 1869, the venture failed. Clara later reflected on their misfortune, “We stayed in New York just long enough for Mr. Filene to lose every dollar he had.”[11] The failed enterprise, however, taught Edward and Lincoln an early lesson about the volatility of the national economy.

The Filene family regrouped in Lynn, Massachusetts, just fifteen miles northeast of Boston. Starting in the late 1830s, Lynn had transformed itself from a colonial town of tanneries, family farms, and shoe-makers into a bustling factory city known primarily for industrial shoe production. The Civil War further stimulated the expansion of Lynn’s manufacturing base and brought even greater prosperity to the city. By the time the Filenes arrived, entire shoe workers’ neighborhoods had cropped up around the factory districts and large estates had appeared along the Eastern shore. The Filenes settled among the working-class community in an old industrial factory building; it was here that Edward spent many of his formative years. William sold off all of his assets, except for the family furniture, to pay off his business debts and to finance a small women’s wear store geared toward the needs of the young factory girls who passed by on their way to work each day. The shop was a true family affair. Clara was in charge of bookkeeping; William ran the day-to-day operations; Edward and his siblings provided customer service when not in school. The store thrived due to its consistent stream of customers. Within a year, the Filenes opened a larger store, and with the assistance of the older children, William opened up a menswear outlet a few blocks away. In Lynn, William Filene avoided the heavy debts he had contracted in New York City, and his retail stores successfully weathered the Panic of 1873. By 1875, he had accumulated enough capital to open a third store in Bath, Maine.

Plagued by chronic sickness, Edward suffered a difficult and lonely childhood. At the age of three, he suffered a fall that left him with a lame leg and an awkward gait. The recurrent limp left Edward unable to play with other children, and as an escape from loneliness, he spent much of his time indoors or helping out in his father’s stores. Edward also suffered from periodic bouts of eczema that left his skin red and inflamed. To make matters worse, the Filene family was sporadically uprooted in accordance with the rise and fall of William’s business fortunes, and this added to Edward’s childhood uncertainties. But perhaps the most difficult period of his youth began at age nine when Clara sent her three eldest children to Germany for a year-and-a-half of schooling.[12]

Fearful that her children’s education would suffer in Lynn’s working-class public schools, Clara arranged for Rudolf, Edward, and Bertram to enroll for a year at her own alma mater, a private academy named the Handel’s Institute in Segnitz-am-Main. Over time, the school had evolved into an all-male academy known for its rigor and military-style discipline, and it promised to provide the Filene children with a thorough education. As the only non-Germans at the academy, the Filenes were tormented and ridiculed by their classmates. Edward, who was also targeted on account of his physical ailments, suffered in particular. Despondent, Edward spent much of his time in his room, where he immersed himself in classic German literature, including the works of Goethe and Schiller. The piece he most identified with, however, was Danish author Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fable, “The Ugly Duckling,” whose protagonist overcame a childhood of unhappiness and solitude.[13] It was a great relief when Clara returned to Segnitz after a year to take her children home. The Handel’s Institute proved intellectually nourishing but emotionally harrowing for young Edward. But the time abroad also had an unintended effect: it gave Edward a greater appreciation for the United States and affirmed his own sense of identity as an American. He never developed a sentimental attachment to his parent’s homeland.[14]

As Edward learned the retail trade during his high school years, he also began to reflect upon his ancestral religion and theological beliefs. His thinking on religious matters was clearly influenced by his father. Shortly after immigrating to the United States, William Filene had shed his religious affiliation in favor of a secular-rationalist worldview. It is unclear why William Filene turned his back on Judaism, but he may have been motivated by the persuasive currents of American anti-Semitism. Alternatively, he may have also regarded Judaism as part of the Old World past that he had chosen to leave behind. Edward recalled that his father used to take him and his siblings to various Boston-area churches because “he wanted us to see and ask questions, but not to join any church until we were at least of age.”[15] While he supported various Jewish causes later in life, Edward never fully embraced Judaism.

Throughout his adolescence, Edward divided his energies between his intellectual development and the family business. When he was not waiting on customers, storekeeping, or traveling between stores, he read voraciously. The ambitious books he tackled included Darwin’s Origin of Species and the American history tomes of George Bancroft, the erudite historian who was educated both at Harvard and the University of Göttingen.[16] Edward also dreamed of attending Harvard himself. In 1879, he graduated high school, and in 1880, he passed his Harvard entrance exams. This dream, however, went unfulfilled; for his father suffered a devastating stroke mere weeks after Edward received his admissions letter in the summer of 1880. Through his systematic attention to stock, inventory, and store operations, Edward had proven himself as the ablest retailer among the Filene children, and he became the full-time manager of his father’s business, deferring his college education to some point in the future. Lincoln likewise quit high school at fifteen to assist his brother. William maintained formal managerial control, but the active day-to-day operations were now conducted by the sons.

In 1881, William Filene opened a new store in Boston, beginning the family’s permanent retail presence in the city. His first enterprise there, a modest twenty-four square-foot shop financed by earnings from his other operations, was located on a side street off Boston’s main downtown shopping district. The store, unlike the Lynn stores, catered to the city’s middle class. The shop did well enough that William opened a second store, the Guillaume Glove Store.[17] The two Boston stores performed well, selling $100,000 worth of goods per year ($2.25 million in 2010[18]) by the fall of 1883. Now in his twenties, and taking on an ever larger role in the family business, Edward ferried between Lynn and Boston daily. Soon he was also making weekly trips to New York City to stay on top of current trends, so as to better respond to the tastes of their middle-class clientele. Within a short time, Edward came to understand the thrifty spending habits of working women and the wives of poor laborers, as well as the lavish spending choices made by women of wealth.[19]

Just as the Filene family stores began to enjoy sustained financial success, Edward experienced a crippling bout of eczema. The intense inflammation covered his entire body, leaving his skin pock-marked and scarred; the pain was so agonizing that Edward was bedridden, unable to read or write. The flare-up required multiple treatments and lasted over a year before subsiding. In Edward’s absence, Lincoln assumed his duties and began to learn the makings of a successful merchant. Upon returning to full health, Edward helped his father and brother further grow the family enterprise.

They succeeded. William decided to concentrate on expanding their Boston operations and sold the Lynn, Salem, and Bath stores. In 1890, he invested the proceeds from those sales into a new, five-story store on Boston’s Washington Street, which soon became the largest women’s clothing and accessory shop in the city. It was William’s last major business venture. A year later, he turned over the entirety of the store operations to Edward and Lincoln, and incorporated the business as William Filene and Sons. Specializing in “Fancy goods and Women’s Ready-to-Wear Apparel,” William Filene and Sons became the vehicle in which Edward A. Filene climbed Boston’s socio-economic ladder. Though Edward and Lincoln would guide Filene’s department store to new heights, much credit must be given to their father for his role in their future success. Indeed, William Filene was part of a generation of German Jews whose creativity and industriousness gave the United States “a shot in the arm” at a moment when earlier immigrant groups and pioneers were settling down.[20] By the age of sixty, William Filene had become one of the first German-Jewish immigrant entrepreneurs to successfully compete against Boston’s Anglo-American retail Brahmins. But like many German-Jewish businessmen of his generation, he remained middle class. In families like the Filenes, the most spectacular successes were often achieved by members of the second generation.[21]

Business Development

Between 1891 and World War I, Edward and Lincoln’s innovative retailing practices and employee relations programs worked to grow Filene’s department store into the largest retail store in New England – and one of the premier retail stores in the world. Edward, the more intellectual of the brothers, spearheaded the development of store policies and programs, while Lincoln adroitly dealt with personnel matters and employee relations. The first decade of the twentieth century was one of tremendous economic growth, and the success of the Filene’s store could be measured both in its fiscal returns and its spatial expansion. In 1901, the Filene store changed its address again, tripling its retail space. In 1902, the store was incorporated. Edward and Lincoln “owned all the stock . . . and drew no salary,” until 1907, at which point “they then allocated shares to twenty managers” and to the store’s employee organization, the Filene Cooperative Association.[22] In 1903, the Filenes opened up a new annex store as well as a Paris office. Sales had already surpassed the half-million-dollar point in 1900, and by 1906 they had quintupled, exceeding $2.5 million ($62.5 million in 2010). Commenting on this astounding growth, historian Meg Jacobs noted that between 1900 and 1906 “Filene’s business expanded at more than twice the rate of Macy’s and Fields.”[23] Perhaps the most significant symbol of their newfound stature and success was the construction of the Filene Building. Designed by Daniel Burnham, one of the country’s premier architects, the opulent eight-story structure provided expanded retail space and office quarters. This $7 million ($162 million in 2010) “temple of commerce” opened on September 3, 1912, to an estimated 235,000 eager visitors and solidified Filene’s reputation as a fixture in Boston’s downtown shopping district. By 1912, Filene’s had 900 employees on its payroll and boasted “the highest dollar sales per square foot of any American store.”[24]

Edward A. Filene generated widespread excitement for his store with the introduction of his most famous retail endeavor, the Automated Bargain Basement. Marshall Field had introduced the first bargain basement operations in the United States as early as 1879, but the Filenes made their basement famous.[25] Opening on January 4, 1909, Filene’s Bargain Basement operated as a separate unit from the Filene’s store, with its own buyers who purchased goods to sell at significantly lower prices, such as overstock, factory-clearance merchandise, and discontinued styles. Customers were most enthusiastic about the store’s automated markdown system, Edward Filene’s most successful attempt at making merchandising “scientific.” Plaques displayed throughout the store announced the “basement rules.” If an item had not sold after twelve days, the price dropped by twenty-five percent. After another six days, the price fell another twenty-five percent, and after six more days, an extra twenty-five percent was marked down. If still unsold, the merchandise was given to charity. It was an “auction in reverse,” with thrifty shoppers gambling on how long they wanted to wait for an item at the risk of it being sold before the desired price was reached. The store operated in the red for ten years, but the publicity created by the Automatic Bargain Basement brought Filene’s new customers and sparked the interest of manufacturers, retailers, and wholesalers. It was no secret that critics denounced the Bargain Basement as “Filene’s Folly,” but turning a profit was less important in those early years than keeping merchandise moving and attracting customers. Years later, the Bargain Basement was the unit within Filene’s that best managed to withstand the economic downturn of the Great Depression, and it even offset the losses of the main store.[26]

In the 1890s, Edward Filene’s expansive interests pointed in two different, if complementary, directions. As the United States struggled to cope with the political, social, and economic transformations spurred by industrialization and urbanization, a generation of progressive social activists emerged to combat the perceived evils and inequalities that were part and parcel of these changes. Edward established himself as a reformer inside his store’s walls through progressive employee welfare programs. During the 1890s, William Filene & Sons established a welfare director position, hygiene classes, and savings and loans programs; it set a minimum wage, offered insurance and sick pay benefits, created an employee library, and held weekly employee meetings where workers could air their concerns. Their store management also pioneered some of the country’s first welfare capitalism practices; these included a simple benefits system and recreational programs. The store launched women’s and men’s clubs, a band, a theater group, and a dance group. Additionally, Filene’s instituted an employee training program that included courses in retailing, buying, and selling. The program offered a career ladder for any employee, male or female, who sought to take advantage of it.

The main vehicle for testing the brothers’ ideas about industrial democracy was the Filene Cooperative Association (FCA), which Edward and William launched in 1891 with great enthusiasm. Open to all interested employees, the FCA was a tool with which employees could advocate for improved work conditions. The FCA elected an eighteen-member executive council, which could overturn any store policy through a two-thirds vote. If management vetoed the proposed rule change, a unanimous vote of the FCA membership could overturn the veto. The year 1901 saw the institution of an arbitration committee, through which the FCA adjudicated all cases of dismissal and disciplinary action. Functioning independently of the store management, the body had the power to challenge and reverse the decisions of store supervisors. Further, the Filene brothers assured the FCA that employees could vote in any manner without fear of management reprisal. An independent study conducted by the Russell Sage Foundation found that the arbitration committee overturned forty-six percent of dismissal cases in its first thirty years.[27] The FCA even launched its own newspaper, The Echo. Although employees had the power to alter company policies, the FCA rarely showed an interest in doing so. To its logical conclusion, the FCA empowered employees and allowed them to take more responsibility in controlling the store. To the chagrin of Edward, however, the employees seldom chose to exercise their power; instead, they were mostly content to settle for the piecemeal employee perks implemented by management. [28]

The FCA was motivated by Edward’s belief that if employees had a greater stake in the store business, the quality of their work would improve. Edward argued to his business contemporaries that this kind of industrial democracy ensured not only profitability but also the survival of the free enterprise system.[29] The Filene brothers’ methods for improving employee relations opened them up to criticism from both the Right and the Left. Boston’s conservative merchant community viewed the Filenes as crackpots and saw their efforts as dangerously radical. The Left accused the brothers of attempting to manipulate their workers and of preventing them from joining militant, radical trade unions.[30] The FCA, however, was less a management-controlled company union than an attempt by the Filene brothers to give their workers greater control over their workdays, and to offer greater mobility and advancement within their operation. Writing to a contemporary in 1901, Edward argued that, in practice, the FCA created a democratic relationship between employer and employee, thus doing away with much of the friction between management and workers. In fact, according to Edward, the FCA was good for business and “resulted in a conservative successful regime under which our store has been successful and has grown as fast or faster than any other house in Boston.”[31] The Filene brothers’ support and defense of the FCA reflected their concern and respect for workers, something they had learned as children growing up alongside Lynn’s industrial laborers. While most capitalists waged war with labor unions, Edward and Lincoln believed that the Filene store was waging war against the social ills of capitalism through fair pay and the creation of a participatory, “democratic” workplace. In Edward’s vision, the ultimate end was for his employees to be given an ownership share, underscoring his belief that if employees had a greater stake in the store, their productivity and efficiency would improve.[32]

At the turn of the twentieth century, Filene leveraged the fame, success, and capital he had acquired as one of Boston’s preeminent retailers and worked to become one of the city’s most influential advocates for civic reform. He also began a dialogue with several of the most prominent progressive reformers of the period. Filene’s first public-sector battle was waged in 1897 with the Boston Elevated Company, a firm that ran the majority of Boston’s streetcar lines. The firm sought to build a new line on Washington Street, and it attempted to use its political influence to operate the line indefinitely while controlling the rates it charged. In fighting this battle, Filene courted the services of Boston lawyer (and future Supreme Court justice) Louis D. Brandeis. The two men raised public awareness about Boston Elevated’s high-handed practices and organized a cadre of supporters into the Boston Public Franchise League. With Filene managing the publicity and Brandeis steering the legal fight, Boston Elevated’s plan to operate a streetcar line with little public oversight was defeated in a voter referendum. For Filene, the battle was the start of a lifelong friendship with Brandeis.

Filene also developed a relationship with muckraking journalist and social reformer Lincoln Steffens. Born into a wealthy San Francisco family in 1866, Steffens made his reputation by uncovering the corruption and political malfeasance of municipal governments in his influential exposé The Shame of the Cities (1904). In 1909, Filene wrote to Steffens to convince the famed investigator to probe the inefficiencies of the Boston city government and to examine the seamy behavior of its officials. Additionally, he requested that Steffens formulate a corrective plan. Steffens agreed, and Filene financed his stay in the city. With a target deadline of 1915, Steffens was to devise a grand plan consisting of a series of proposals to make over Boston. By 1912, however, it had become apparent that the sweeping and ambitious master plan conjured by Steffens was not viable.[33] Though unsuccessful in their “Boston 1915” venture, Filene and Steffens nevertheless forged a collaborative friendship. In his autobiography, Steffens characterized Edward A. Filene as “a big businessman” who “seemed to be a democrat, a thinker, who said things like an intellectual but who went and did them like a practical man of business.”[34]

The intersection of Filene’s business interests and his concern for social reform can also be seen in many of his other undertakings. In 1903, the Filene brothers teamed with Brandeis to form the Industrial League, an organization of progressive Boston businessmen tasked with discussing employee-employer relations. As a civic leader and social reformer, Filene supported the minimum wage, advocated for workmen’s compensation in Massachusetts, and backed the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, proclaiming in 1905 that, “It is the policy of our business to give the preference to goods bearing the Union label.”[35] Filene was a central figure in the founding of the Boston Chamber of Commerce, and later in both the United States Chamber of Commerce and the International Chamber of Commerce. In 1919, Filene founded the Twentieth Century Fund, a think tank that studied ways to advance economic and social development.

An advocate of world peace, Filene also became deeply involved in national and international affairs, establishing an impressive list of contacts along the way. He corresponded with President Theodore Roosevelt and even suggested that he appoint Brandeis to his cabinet. A lifelong Democrat, Filene was one of the country’s few prominent businessmen who endorsed Woodrow Wilson over President Howard Taft in the 1912 election. Later, he became one of the biggest proponents of Wilson’s appointment of Brandeis to the U.S. Supreme Court.[36] The outbreak of World War I was a significant moment in Edward A. Filene’s transformation into a figure of international stature. In 1915, Filene, along with other prominent Americans such as Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Alexander Graham Bell, and former president Taft, formed the League to Enforce Peace (LEP). Organized after the outbreak of the First World War, the LEP advocated the formation of an international body to promote world peace. In accordance with this objective, Filene wholeheartedly agreed with President Wilson that the United States should join the League of Nations. After the Senate rejected America’s entry into the League, Filene gave speeches and authored pieces in which he promoted a pro-European orientation of American foreign policy. After a four-month visit to Europe in the wake of the armistice, he expressed concern about runaway inflation in Germany and the lack of cooperation between European nations, both of which he saw as stemming from the punitive terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Throughout the early 1920s, Filene argued that it was in America’s – and the world’s – best interest to get Germany’s masses back to work again to prevent extreme Right or Left elements from taking power there. Postwar Europe, in Filene’s view, had been torn apart as much by peace as by war, and he argued for greater American involvement in Europe’s future. In a 1920 article in the New York Times, he acknowledged that it would be “difficult for business men to see that their business success depends on international co-operation.”[37] Difficult, for sure, but necessary, in his mind. In the end, Filene believed that seeking to promote European recovery could only benefit the international commercial order, whereas isolation and protectionism would further harm American liberal economic interests. It was during this time that Filene’s profile as a public speaker grew, and he once remarked to his mother, “I am being converted rapidly from a shopkeeper into a speaker.”[38] Although Filene achieved prominence as a self-styled statesman, his internationalist positions remained in the minority thanks to a wave of postwar prosperity in the 1920s and a growing trend towards political isolationism.

Since Edward’s activism kept him away from the day-to-day operations of the store, the management of Filene’s was left in Lincoln’s capable hands. Over time, however, commercial success led to expansion and to new additions to the management. From within the store, Edward and Lincoln appointed longtime employees Thomas K. Cory and John R. Simpson as division heads. They also added two important outside figures to the management board: Edward J. Frost, who became chief financial officer, and senior executive Louis E. Kirstein. Kirstein, a Jew from Rochester, New York, was the son-in-law of Nathan Stein, who operated the Stein-Bloch men’s clothing manufacturing firm. It was there that Kirstein had achieved his first financial successes as a merchandiser specializing in men’s clothing.[39] When this six-man management board was constructed in 1912, the common stock was divided into one hundred parts. Edward and Lincoln retained twenty-six shares each, giving them a fifty-two percent majority stake. The other shares were divided equally among the other four managers, at twelve shares apiece. Over time, Kirstein, Cory, Frost, and Simpson sought to expand their stake in the voting stock as well. Kirstein, especially, had little interest in Edward and Lincoln’s experimental labor management policies. Clashes ensued. These problems were exacerbated by Edward’s conspicuous absenteeism and his numerous non-store commitments, both of which created resentment among some of his new and more conservative colleagues.

Disputes over store shares and a proposed merger with the Federated Department Store led to a series of events that ultimately stripped Edward A. Filene of all managerial authority and left him as a mere titular head within Filene’s. In 1915, John Simpson retired due to health reasons and offered his twelve percent stock to his colleagues. Edward desired that another man take Simpson’s place, while Kirstein sought to delay such a decision. The company purchased the stock instead and turned it over to a trustee until an individual purchaser was found. In 1921, Thomas Cory passed away, and against Edward’s protests, senior executives Kirstein and Frost bought the stock from Cory’s estate and divided his shares. With twelve percent of the shares still under trusteeship, tensions within the store rose, and an intense animosity developed between Kirstein and Edward, a feud that threatened to undermine the business.

In 1928, the Filene’s store was pressured to merge into a loose confederation of department store firms. Edward, however, wanted to retain his managerial independence and to preserve his reforms, so he opposed the proposed merger. In a move that Edward viewed as the ultimate betrayal, Lincoln allied himself with the other partners and helped depose Edward from the presidency and then engineered the merger into the Federated Department Store. As part of a compensatory overture, Lincoln arranged for Edward to retain the title of company president for life, and he allowed him to draw a salary equal to that of Frost and Kirstein. In the final analysis, however, Edward had lost all effective authority and was not to interfere in store management. The events of 1928 effectively ended Edward A. Filene’s career as a merchant.[40]

Round the World Trip, 1907, and a Shift

In 1907, at forty-seven years of age, Edward Filene embarked on a round-the-world trip, a journey the Bostonian considered a “dream coming true.”[41] Filene had a lifelong passion for travel and frequently combined education, business, and leisure in his numerous voyages. The trip, which lasted from January through September 1907, took Edward to Japan, the Philippines, and other far-flung locations, but the most significant stop on his expedition was India. The voyage left a lasting imprint on Edward’s thinking and presaged his second career as a spokesman and financial backer of the credit union movement in the United States.[42]

In February 1907, Edward reached Calcutta eager to study the cooperative movement that had sprouted up in the country’s rural districts. On the advice of his travel agent, Filene contacted a local member of the Indian Civil Service in Bengal Province, a Scotsman named William Robert Gourlay, for assistance with transportation and language difficulties. Gourlay headed Bengal’s cooperative credit societies and invited his American guest on a tour. As they trekked across the rugged Indian countryside, Filene was confronted with levels of poverty and destitution that he had never before seen, and he began to question the sources of India’s economic disparities. He concluded that, on the whole, two things prevented villagers from pulling themselves out of their state of economic misery: exploitation by local land owners and a lack of access to credit to develop the land. Further, he noted that local moneylenders charged exorbitant interest rates that kept villagers mired in debt. Writing in his journal, Filene asserted, “all of this is absolutely done by natives alone and that no Englishman has any part in it except to try to remedy it.”[43] Still, Filene admired the Bengali peasants and viewed them as victims of an exploitative system, though he did not extend his analysis, insofar as his journal entries reveal, to an ideological critique of the British imperial system. The way out of poverty was not through militancy or Hindu nationalism; rather, Filene believed that the plight of the Indian peasant could be alleviated through the expansion of cooperative credit.[44]

Gourlay explained to Filene how the local Agricultural Cooperative Banks operated. With the encouragement, or persuasion, of the British government, groups of villagers formed associations to deposit their savings. The colonial government “would then lend the association a sum equal to that deposited by the members” and the association, in turn, lent money to its members.[45] The associations were staffed with unpaid, volunteer officers. After leaving India, Edward travelled to the Philippines, then an American colonial possession, which provided a useful comparison with India. Filene observed similar levels of poverty among Filipino peasants, but there existed little capital to raise an agricultural bank. Thus, it seemed to Filene that the prospect of raising the Filipino peasant out of poverty was impossible without economic and agricultural reforms. Upon returning to the United States, Filene wrote to President Theodore Roosevelt and recommended the introduction of agricultural banks in the Philippines. Roosevelt expressed some initial interest, but to Edward’s chagrin, nothing came of it. The round-the-world trip was deeply informative and aroused an intense interest in cooperative credit and “had given him an additional cause for which to fight.”[46]

Edward was impressed by what he had seen in India, but the cooperative credit idea that elicited so much excitement did not have its origins in the British colonial system. Rather, cooperative credit institutions trace their historical roots to Germany and the ideas put forth by three important figures: Victor Aime Huber, Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch, and Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen. In the mid-nineteenth century, Victor Aime Huber, a devout Lutheran, sought to foster a communal life based on the spirit of Christian love. Believing that poverty caused defects in character that led to an individual’s evil behaviors, Huber looked to cooperative organizations to combat poverty and thus solve the ills of society. Cooperative associations could aid workers and small proprietors, providing a system of “self-help” that was more effective than philanthropic or charitable acts. Though Huber’s writings were highly popular in Germany, he did not actually detail how a cooperative credit institution might be organized.[47]

The first practical cooperative credit societies were developed by two Germans, Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch and Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen. Born in 1808 into a prosperous family from the village of Delitzsch, Saxony, Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch managed the world’s regional and national credit union network. During the difficult 1840s, which saw crop failures and revolutionary upheavals, Schulze recognized the need for credit among craftsmen and shopkeepers. In the early 1850s, he formed his first cooperative credit association. It operated on a clear set of principled guidelines for membership: the association was open to individuals of good character, it made loans available for productive purposes, and it stipulated a democratic, as opposed to hierarchical, control of the banks. Unlike Huber’s formulations, Schulze’s people’s banks operated under no pretense of Christian morality, but stressed rational economic thinking, self-help, and thrift.[48]

A rival cooperative association was created by Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen. Born in 1818 in the Rhine Province, Raiffeisen rose through the ranks of the civil service to become mayor of Heddesdorf in 1852. Whereas Schulze sought to create cooperative societies to aid urban craftsmen and shopkeepers, Raiffeisen was concerned with the suffering of farmers who had been victimized by exploitative moneylenders following the disintegration of the feudal system. During the 1850s, Raiffeisen experimented with a number of benevolent and loan societies that operated out of Heddesdorf, but these organizations became dependent on the contributions of public-spirited, wealthy donors. To his disappointment, Raiffeisen soon realized that his well-to-do givers began to lose interest in these societies because the benefits fell to poorer borrowers. In 1864, Raiffeisen reorganized the Heddesdorf organizations under the principles set forth by the Schulze-Delitzsch societies, and a new organization was born, the Heddesdorf Credit Union.

The Raiffeisen credit unions were both similar to and different from the Schulze-Delitzsch organizations. First and foremost, Raiffeisen adopted the principles of Selbsthilfe, or self-help. Both associations stressed democratic governance by elected members of the society, or Selbstverwaltung, and both organizations relied on an ethic of voluntarism. But several key differences distinguished the two. Raiffeisen stressed brotherhood and Christian love as inspiring principles, while Schulze-Delitzsch promoted pure economic self-sufficiency. Raiffeisen devoted himself to helping farmers, while Schulze-Delitzsch was concerned with urban shopkeepers and artisans. For Raiffeisen, membership was restricted to a local parish or district, while Schulze-Delitzsch preferred for membership to come from a variegated economic area. Overall, the Raiffeisen societies enjoyed a much faster growth rate than the Schulze-Delitzsch organizations, and by the time of Raiffeisen’s death in 1888, 425 Raiffeisen societies existed in Germany.[49]

The Raiffeisen and Schulze-Delitzsch ideas resonated throughout Europe, and comparable credit unions soon formed in Italy and Austria. It was not long before similar operations spread across the Atlantic. In the United States, unions of German craftsmen in New York City organized the Arbeiter-Bund. In contrast with traditional labor union organizers, who focused on shorter hours and higher wages, the Arbeiter-Bund leaders were followers of Schulze-Delitzsch and “sought to establish a bank and hospital, home-building societies, and producers’ cooperatives all according to Schulze’s principle of self-help.”[50] Over time, enthusiasm for the Schulze-Delitzsch societies among unions sputtered and was replaced by interest in European Marxist programs. Cooperative credit societies, however, continued to receive attention, also in 1870s Boston, where a push was made within the Massachusetts state legislature to pass a law permitting the incorporation of people’s banks. Meanwhile, by the 1890s, commercial banks found themselves on the receiving end of a whirlwind of criticism. In urban and rural areas across the United States, Populists and Progressives argued that commercial banks favored the well-to-do at the expense of the average worker and farmer. Members of the latter group, it was noted, “were still without satisfactory credit institutions.”[51]

In North America, two figures adapted the ideas of Schulze-Delitzsch and Raiffeisen and agitated for effective and actionable solutions to credit problems. In 1906, Pierre Jay was appointed first commissioner of banks in Massachusetts. After reading the work of Alphonse Desjardins, who founded Canada’s first cooperative credit societies, Jay invited him to Boston in February 1909 to testify before the Committee on Banks and Banking of the Massachusetts legislature. Encouraged by the Banking Committee to draft a law, Jay, having benefitted from helpful suggestions from Desjardins, authored a bill and submitted it to the committee. On April 15, 1909, the Massachusetts Credit Union Act became law, and Massachusetts became the first state in the country “to pass a general statute for the incorporation of credit unions.”[52] Four years later, in 1913, New York became the second state to pass a credit union law. Though Edward Filene kept a close eye on the developments spearheaded by Pierre Jay, he was in the midst of engaging in his first major public service reform efforts. Soon, Filene became one of the major spokesmen for credit unions, an activism that would shape much of his later career.

Edward A. Filene’s tireless campaigning on behalf of credit unions was fundamental to their expansion and institutional growth beyond the confines of Massachusetts and New York, where a disproportionate number of credit unions concentrated during the movement’s early years.[53] In 1914, Filene and various local merchants and businessmen formed the Massachusetts Credit Union (MCU). The men Filene approached were other prominent, often wealthy, Boston Jews, including Felix Vorenberg, president of the men’s clothing store Gilchrist Company; Max Mitchell, vice president of the Cosmopolitan Trust Company; and Abraham Cohen, a municipal judge.[54] The mission of the MCU was to encourage the formation of credit unions in the Greater Boston area and to aid the credit union movement. Its true mission was to act as “a central agency to help other credit unions.”[55] Filene helped draft the eight principles of credit unions. Evidencing his concern for economic democracy, these principles stated that credit unions had to organize themselves on a cooperative basis, that each member was to be allowed one vote, and that there had to be a limit on the shares held by each member. [56] By 1915, Filene had outlined the organizational principles for credit unionism, but in the 1910s, public skepticism towards new financial schemes, opposition from established bankers’ associations, and indifference from business and industrial firms created an atmosphere in which credit union ideas garnered little widespread support.

Because the MCU directorate consisted entirely of Jewish-American entrepreneurs, there was concern that its ethnic composition would restrict its broader public appeal. Despite his conviction that the credit unions should not be restricted to the Jewish community, and despite his own secular, acculturated upbringing, Filene seemed to prefer working with members of his own ethnic group. For much of his life, Edward, an agnostic, remained ambivalent about his Jewishness, and it was only after the First World War that one finds in his statements and actions any sort of introspection about his own identity as a Jew. Filene expressed concern for Russian-Jewish refugees and contributed to the American Jewish Relief Committee and the Jewish War Relief Appeal, but his contributions were strictly monetary.[57]

While Edward’s zeal for spreading the credit union cause stemmed from his idealistic desire to build an institution that would provide the masses with access to credit and small loans, his activism must also be seen as an effort to combat the perception of the Jewish banker as a loan shark. Especially in Western states such as Kansas and Nebraska, populist farmer groups spewed anti-Semitic rhetoric that invoked allusions of conspiratorial Jewish bankers influencing the world money supply.[58] Edward Filene confessed that his interest in the Credit Union movement was partially motivated by the desire “to fight an age old prejudice that all Jews were usurers.”[59] In a 1930 article titled, “The Spread of Credit Unions,” he further explained:

Now some of the loan sharks were Jews, and some of the agitation against them was anti-Jewish propaganda. It should be recorded, then, that the first promoters of credit unions in America were also Jews. They were not thinking of themselves as Jews in doing the work they did. They were simply citizens sincerely interested in rescuing other citizens from the jaws of the loan sharks; but the fact that they were Jews, I think—and I thought at the time—was strategically important. So when I broached a plan for the organization of a society in Massachusetts to promote the credit-union idea, I saw to it that the Jewish citizens became its first organizers and directors.[60]

By working with other Jews, these men could advance the idea that American Jews opposed usury and were trying to help solve society’s problems. Indeed, many of the men this group hired to run their organization were non-Jews, the most important of whom was a recent Harvard Law graduate named Roy F. Bergengren.[61]

In 1920, Filene, who was already preoccupied with a multitude of endeavors, hired Bergengren to serve as the new managing director of the Massachusetts Credit Union Association, the successor of the MCU. Bergengren’s enthusiasm, dogged work ethic, foresight, and skilled management helped thrust the struggling credit union movement into the forefront of American economic life. With Filene’s financial backing, and under the directorship of Bergengren, the Credit Union National Extension Bureau (CUNEB) was formed in July 1921 to promote credit unions nationwide. CUNEB’s funding came almost entirely from Filene’s Twentieth Century Fund. Both men realized that few state legislatures would pass state credit union laws without first educating lawmakers and investors about their purpose and function. Throughout the 1920s, like financial evangelists, Filene and Bergengren traversed the country to promote the benefits credit unions offered to small savers and to encourage the introduction of credit union legislation. Bergengren also launched The Bridge, a small publication that featured human interest stories on how credit unions aided people in need, analyses of predatory loan shark practices, and news about legislative campaigns. With The Bridge, the movement had been given its first official publication. By the end of the 1920s, thanks to Bergengren’s organizational efforts and the publicity campaigns that he and Filene launched, thirty-two states had passed credit union legislation and 1,100 credit unions had been organized. Most importantly, their efforts demonstrated the viability of the movement. [62]

The Great Depression of the 1930s was an unforeseen boon to the credit union movement. Mass bank failures wiped out millions in savings and deposits, stimulating widespread interest in credit unions as a banking alternative. As credit union movement historians J. Carroll Moody and Gilbert Fite have observed, “the credit union movement undoubtedly benefited from widespread desire to depart from traditional practices and to experiment with new systems.”[63] The Great Depression also sparked interest in the cooperative service ideal, a direct repute to the selfishness of traditional banking institutions and financial leaders. Due to their organizational structure, cautious fiscal policies, and democratic organization, credit unions survived the Great Depression better than most of their rival financial institutions.

By 1932 Bergengren had his sights set on pushing for a federal bill that would allow for credit union organization under federal jurisdiction. Bergengren argued that a federal law had several advantages, the most important of which was that a federal law would allow CUNEB to do organizational work anywhere in the country instead of on a state-by-state basis; additionally, a federal law would prevent credit unions from being discriminated against by “unfriendly state banking departments.”[64] On June 26, 1934, President Roosevelt signed the Federal Credit Union Act, which allowed for credit unions to be formed in any state. Bergengren wrote to Filene several weeks later, calling the law “the greatest single step forward in the history of the credit union movement.”[65]

Looking to seize the momentum generated by the passage of the Federal Credit Union Act, Bergengren moved quickly to establish a national credit union association. By that time, the oft-domineering Filene was now nearing seventy-four years, and Bergengren did not necessarily need him to exercise a leadership role in the effort. He realized, however, that he still needed Filene’s money. On August 7, 1934, a four-day long meeting began in Estes Park, Colorado; it was attended by fifty-two delegates (credit unionists from twenty-one states and the District of Columbia), who had come together to deliberate and launch a national organization. On August 10, the attendees drafted a constitution and bylaws that developed the framework for the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), which was established in 1935. Through his Twentieth Century Fund foundation, Edward Filene appropriated $25,000 of financial support ($397,000 in 2010) for the CUNA for the 1935-36 year.[66] Roy Bergengren was appointed as the CUNA’s first managing director, while Filene was named president emeritus, a title that acknowledged his active but now reduced role within the credit union movement.

The passage of the Federal Credit Union Act of 1934 was the apex of the Filene-Bergengren partnership. Their collaboration was not always harmonious – not least because Bergengren often tried to exercise a degree of autonomy – but their conflicts were often more about means than ends.[67] Bergengren and Filene’s indefatigable efforts, their commitment to the cause, and their personal charisma allowed them to dominate the credit union movement during the 1920s and 1930s. By the late 1930s, however, their era was beginning to come to an end. As the credit union movement became institutionalized and professionalized, Bergengren and Filene could no longer carry the torch.


Despite his advancing age, the indefatigable Filene kept up his heavy travel schedule, barnstorming the United States to cultivate support for credit unions and consumer cooperatives. His health, however, was beginning to fail him. During a visit to the Soviet Union in 1936, he suffered a near fatal bout with pneumonia but managed to recover.[68] In the summer of 1937, at the age of seventy-seven, Filene, accompanied by his personal assistant Lillian Schoedler, set off for his annual trip to Europe against his physician’s advice. The trip started off well, with Filene thumbing his nose at his physician by going on a successful hunting expedition in the Austrian Alps. Afterwards, he and Schoedler drove to the French city of Le Havre, Normandy, but Filene arrived seriously ill. This time he did not recover. Filene was whisked to the American Hospital in Paris, where he passed away on the morning of September 26, 1937. His remains were cremated and sent back to Boston, where a small group of friends scattered his ashes in the Charles River.

Edward Filene’s death was a major event. A myriad of prominent American businessmen, politicians, and colleagues issued statements celebrating and honoring his contributions to both the retail profession and the cooperative credit movement. The most prestigious figure to pay tribute to Filene was President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt lauded Filene’s accomplishments in business, but also stressed his principled dedication to the American masses, linking his cherished ideals of progress and reform:

It is not individual persons but the people as a whole who were closest to the heart of this unique personality. Mr. Filene was, however, more than a champion of popular rights. He was a prophet who perceived the true meaning of these changing times. He was an analyst who was able, by mathematical calculations, to make plain to us that our modern mechanism of abundance cannot be kept in operation unless the masses of our people are enabled to live abundantly. His democracy was, therefore, more than a tradition. His liberalism was more than a formula. His faith was more than a mere assent to principles which have proved to be tried and true. He did not repudiate the past, after the fashion of some reformers, nor did he repudiate the future after the fashion of those who fear reform. He believed in learning and searching out the ways of human progress.[69]

The distribution of Filene’s assets upon his death added veracity to FDR’s high praise. Edward A. Filene, who died a bachelor and without heirs, divided his estate, which was valued at $2.2 million ($33.4 million in 2010), between the Twentieth Century Fund and the Good Will foundation.

Roy Bergengren, more than anyone else, honored Filene for his broad vision and fiscal contributions to the credit union movement, stating that, without him, “our battle could not have been won.”[70] Filene, then, was less the founder of credit unionism than one of its most important and influential backers. As his involvement with the Filene’s department store receded, his role as a financer of credit unions enabled others to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors of their own and offered economic assistance to those who were unable to secure it at the time. In Boston Common, a plaque was erected in Filene’s honor as a tribute to his accomplishments, while in Chicago, a bronze bust of Filene stands alongside those of other retail magnates outside the famous Merchandise Mart. Today, an independent credit union think tank, the Filene Research Institute, operates out of Madison, Wisconsin, alongside the Credit Union National Association, which continues to build on the foundations laid by Filene, Bergengren, and their associates. In 2006, the downtown flagship Filene’s department store closed. In 2011, due to a sluggish economy and intense competition from rival discount retailers, Filene’s Basement filed for bankruptcy, and in December 2011, Boston’s iconic store finally shut its doors.[71]


[1] Posen became part of Prussia in 1815. The city has been under Polish control since 1919 and is known today as Poznań. After Germany’s defeat in the Second World War, the ethnic German population was forcibly expelled.

[2] Unpublished biography of Edward A. Filene by Robert Cantwell, p. 5, 6, Edward A. Filene Papers, CUNA, Madison, WI. In interviews with Cantwell, Edward Filene speculated that his father may have been a radical, although he made no attempt to specifically outline or label his father’s political leanings or activities.

[3] Avraham Barkai, Branching Out: German-Jewish Immigration to the United States, 1820-1914 (New York, NY: Holmes & Meier, 1994), 2.

[4] Barkai, Branching Out, 16.

[5] Quoted in Barkai, Branching Out, 5.

[6] Roger Daniels, Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1990), 155-58. While German immigrants, as a whole, settled both in urban and rural areas, a high percentage of German Jews settled in urban areas, especially New York City

[7] George Berkley, The Filenes (Boston, MA: International Pocket Library, 1998), 9. In the unpublished biography by Robert Cantwell, Edward noted that his father had arrived penniless.

[8] Daniels, Coming to America, 158.

[9] Barkai, Branching Out, 78.

[10] Berkley, The Filenes, 8-11.

[11] Ibid., 12.

[12] Saul Engelbourg, “Edward A. Filene: Merchant, Civic Leader, and Jew,” in Central European Jews in America, 1840-1880: Migration and Advancement, ed. Jeffrey S. Gurock (New York, NY: Routledge, 1998), 149-51.

[13] Marian L. Starkey, “Beginning Young: The Ugly Duckling,” Boston Globe, September 8, 1934.

[14] Berkley, The Filenes, 14, 21-26.

[15] Ibid., 16.

[16] [16] George Bancroft (1800-1891) was an American historian most famous for his magisterial work The History of the United States, from the Discovery of the United States, first published in 1834. After earning his degree at Harvard at age seventeen, Bancroft received his doctorate from the University of Göttingen in 1820. Among historians, Bancroft is frequently cited as having transferred the “German” idea of history to the United States.

[17] Guillaume is the French equivalent of the name William.

[18] The current and subsequent figures citing 2010 dollar values relative to the original money amount have been calculated in terms of the annual Consumer Price Index for the United States, via MeasuringWorth accessed February 20, 2012).

[19] Leon Harris, Merchant Princes: An Intimate History of Jewish Families Who Built Great Department Stores (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1979), 5.

[20] Ibid., xv, xvi.

[21] Daniels, Coming to America, 158. Another example was Julius Rosenwald, the son of a German-Jewish peddler. A second-generation immigrant, Rosenwald oversaw the development of Sears, Roebuck.

[22] Engelbourg, “Edward A. Filene: Merchant, Civic Leader, and Jew,” 150.

[23] Meg Jacobs, Pocketbook Politics: Economic Citizenship in Twentieth Century America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 18.

[24] Engelbourg, “Edward A. Filene: Merchant, Civic Leader, and Jew”, 150, 151; Berkley, The Filenes, 120-27; Jacobs, Pocketbook Politics, 9.

[25] Jacobs, Pocketbook Politics, 24.

[26] Harris, Merchant Princes, 14, 15, 17; Jacobs, Pocketbook Politics, 24-26.

[27] Kim McQuaid, “An American Owenite: Edward A. Filene and the Parameters of Industrial Reform, 1890-1937,” American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 35.1 (January 1976): 78.

[28] Berkley, The Filenes, 53-56.

[29] Harris, Merchant Princes, 11.

[30] Berkley, The Filenes, 118.

[31] Edward A. Filene to Dr. William H. Tolman, Edward A. Filene Papers, Box 61, CUNA Archives.

[32] Engelbourg, “Edward A. Filene: Merchant, Civic Leader, and Jew,” 151.

[33] Ibid., 80.

[34] Quoted in Berkley, The Filenes, 95.

[35] Filene to John A. Dyche, May 10, 1905, quoted in Engelbourg, “Edward A. Filene: Merchant, Civic Leader, and Jew,” 156.

[36] In some circles, the appointment of Brandeis was both unpopular and controversial. The American business community accused Brandeis of being anti-business. As the first Jewish appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Brandeis was the subject of anti-Semitic criticism.

[37] “Urging Need of Foreign Markets,” New York Times, November 28, 1920.

[38] Quoted in Berkley, The Filenes, 146

[39] Kirstein was permitted to invest $250,000 of his own money into the business as an incentive to join the ranks of the firm; however, this was in the form of non-voting preferred stock. Johnson, Liberal’s Progress, 67; Engelbourg, “Edward A. Filene: Merchant, Civic Leader, and Jew”, 151.

[40] McQuaid, “An American Owenite,” 79.

[41] Edward A. Filene Papers, January 5, 1907, Box 7, CUNA, Madison, WI

[42] Berkley, The Filenes, 89-92

[43] Edward A. Filene Papers, March 5, 1907, Box 7, CUNA, Madison, WI.

[44] During his journey through India, Filene engaged in a dialogue with Hindu intellectuals and scholars who criticized the British system and advocated self-rule for India. Filene was not persuaded by the immediacy of such positions, writing, “Personally, I do not know but I have a feeling that self-government will not be a success in India for many generations. What seems to me to be the first step is education.” Edward A. Filene Papers, Box 7, February 8, 1907, Madison, WI.

[45] J. Carroll Moody and Gilbert Courtland Fite, The Credit Union Movement: Origins and Development, 1850-1970 (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1971), 30.

[46] Moody and Fite, The Credit Union Movement, 26-31.

[47] Ibid., 3, 4.

[48] Ibid., 4-8.

[49] Ibid., 8-13.

[50] Ibid., 15.

[51] Ibid., 18.

[52]Ibid., 36. New Hampshire, however, was the first state to have successfully passed the first credit union law.

[53] A 1916 study conducted by the Russell Sage Foundation found that over three-quarters of the nation’s 107 credit unions were in Massachusetts and New York. Harris, Merchant Princes, 127-28.

[54] Shelly Tenenbaum, A Credit to Their Communities: Jewish Loan Societies in the United States, 1880-1945 (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1993), 128-29.

[55] Tenenbaum, A Credit to Their Communities, 129.

[56] Moody and Fite, The Credit Union Movement, 51, 52. The eight principles were that “credit unions must organize on a cooperative basis; form an association of men not shares, limit each member’s shares, and allow each member only one vote; rigidly exclude thriftless and improvident borrowing; admit to membership only honest and industrious men and women; restrict operations to small communities and groups; make small loans, with frequent partial repayments; permit character and industry to be the main basis of credit; and require prompt repayment of loans.”

[57] Engelbourg, “Edward Filene: Merchant, Civic Leader, and Jew”, 163.

[58] John Higham, Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002), 94.

[59] Filene, quoted in Moody and Fite, The Credit Union Movement, 46.

[60] Edward A. Filene, “The Spread of Credit Unions,” The Survey, November 1, 1930.

[61] Tennenbaum, A Credit to Their Communities, 129-31.

[62] Moody and Fite, The Credit Union Movement, 89-99, 126.

[63] Ibid., 128.

[64] Ibid., 152. At the time twelve states still did not have credit union laws.

[65] Bergengren, quoted in Moody & Fite, The Credit Union Movement, 166.

[66] Moody and Fite, The Credit Union Movement, 169-90.

[67] Moody and Fite, The Credit Union Movement, 235.

[68] Edward had visited the Soviet Union eight years earlier. Though in no way a sympathizer with communism, Edward nevertheless maintained a curiosity about the Soviet experiment and saw his visits as fact-finding missions in which he spoke, through an interpreter, with leading bureau heads.

[69] Roy Bergengren, Crusade: The Fight for Economic Democracy in North America, 1921-1945 (New York, NY: Exposition Press, 1952), 301-02.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Jess Bidgood, “Filene’s Basement Closes in Boston, and Shoppers Mourn,” New York Times, December 29, 2011.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Edward Albert Filene
  • Coverage 1860-1937
  • Author
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date June 14, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 22, 2018