Madame Grunder: Entrepreneur and Feme Sole
Christina Johnson was a talented businesswoman who operated a successful dressmaking establishment in Louisville for several decades. She started her business in a house on Green Street while still a single woman, hanging out a tin sign labeled “dressmaking.” Her business flourished after she designed a blue silk bridal gown for a neighbor. However, her independence as a businesswoman was curtailed following her marriage in 1873. Under the system of coverture, she lost many legal rights upon marriage, including her ability to own property and control her earnings. She could not enter into contracts, sue for economic grievances, or transfer property through wills or deeds. Her husband, George Grunder, assumed those responsibilities for the family.
Mr. Grunder was a salesman, but not a particularly good one, so his wife’s business provided the main support for the family. As the primary wage-earner and the business-savvy partner, Madame Grunder was not satisfied that her finances should be controlled by her husband. In 1887 she submitted a petition in Chancery Court to become a feme sole, which would restore the rights she had lost at marriage and give her control over her business. Her petition was successful and she maintained ownership of her dressmaking establishment until her death in 1920.