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Mary Parker Follett: a prophet gaining honour

Mary Parker Follett, US political scientist (1868–1933), was a business thinker decades ahead of her time.

By Mary Parker Follett . 01 March 2003

Mary Parker Follett, US political scientist (1868–1933), was a business thinker decades ahead of her time. Her philosophy of feminine liberal humanism at a time when business was obsessed with a male-dominated mechanistic approach to work is only now being fully appreciated.
MaryParkerFollettThe canon of management literature and the list of management thinkers are dominated by men. The exceptions to this are substantial thinkers. None more so than the American political scientist Mary Parker Follett.

Though generally ignored, Follett was decades ahead of her time. She was discussing issues such as team working and responsibility (now reborn as empowerment) in the first decades of the 20th century. Follett was a female, liberal humanist in an era dominated by reactionary males intent on mechanising the world of business.

The breadth and humanity of her work was a refreshing counter to the dehumanised visions of Frederick Taylor and others. “We should remember that we can never wholly separate the human from the mechanical sides,” warned Follett in Dynamic Administration. “The study of human relations in business and the study of the technology of operating are bound up together.”

Born in Quincy, Massachusetts, Follett attended Thayer Academy and the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women in Cambridge, Massachusetts (now part of Harvard University). She Mary Parker Follett, US political scientist (1868–1933), was a business thinker decades ahead of her time. Her philosophy of feminine liberal humanism at a time when business was obsessed with a male-dominated mechanistic approach to work is only now being fully appreciated. Resourcebusinessthinking Mary Parker Follett: a prophet gaining honour also studied at Newnham College, Cambridge, in the UK and in Paris. Her first published work was The Speaker of the House of Representatives (1896), which she wrote while still a student.

Follett’s career was largely spent in social work though her books appeared regularly – The New State (1918), an influential description of Follett’s brand of dynamic democracy, and Creative Experience (1924), Follett’s first business-oriented book. In her later years she was in great demand as a lecturer. After the death of a longtime partner, Isobel Briggs, in 1926 she moved to London.


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