In Spring 1937 – I guess it is 1937, but it could be 1931, depending on how you interpret the handwriting -, Avis Windham, Genella Burke and Eve Smith bought a textbook of economic theory. It was Principles of Economics, written by Frederic Garver and Alvin Hansen and first published in 1928 by Ginn and Company. This textbook was among those recommended by Harvard teachers in the 1930s, and it has been read and studied by the likes of Robert Solow and Paul Samuelson, who, in their reminiscences, have described the book as a rather serious, but also dreary and poorly entertaining account of economic theory. It really looks rudimentary – not in content but in form – compared to its modern counterpart, which is full of tables, diagrams and figures.
In the 1930s, economics was a man’s field – some might say it still is. Yet I try to imagine those three women living in the same apartment, sharing this seemingly boring book, underlining some sentences – not many, actually -, writing their names all over it: on the edge, on the top, they wrote their three first names Avis, Genella and Eve, as well as their initials, gracefully forming the acronym AGE. I wonder why they bought this book : was it a course requirement, was it for general knowledge? Were they studying in an American university? Did they obtain a B.Sc. or an equivalent diploma? Where did they end up? Were they the typically liberated young women of the 1930s, with short hair and short skirts, or were they compliant daughters from a rather rich family? They bought just one book for all three: was it too expensive, or just uninteresting for them?
I guess that knowing a little more about Avis, Genella and Eve, their lives, expectations and intents would bring us more knowledge about the status of economic theory in the 1930s than another article on Piero Sraffa.