Pioneer In Academic Business Research: Anne Bezanson, Professor

Anne Bezanson had not yet completed her PhD in economic history in 1921, yet she was about to make history herself. At Wharton, the young Canadian helped establish the first business school research center, the Industrial Research Unit (later known as Industrial Research Department or IRD), with Professor Joseph Willits (see p. 72). The founding marked Wharton’s shift toward becoming an academic business research hub—defining a new role for business schools that continues today. Bezanson’s 1921 article on promotion practices became the first product of the IRD. Bezanson continued her practical research in the early 1920s, writing a series on personnel issues, focusing on turnover, worker amenities, and accident prevention.

Willits and Bezanson designed an ambitious research program to explore and help civilize industrial working conditions, with the goal of social change. In 1922, Bezanson and Willits spent a year studying the earnings of coal miners at the U.S. Coal Commission. Employer associations, government agencies, and international organizations continued to look to the IRD for timely and practical knowledge.

In 1929, Bezanson finished her Harvard PhD and became the first female faculty member of Penn’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Under her leadership as co-director (which continued until 1945), the IRD had many women on its team and pursued research into the economic status of workers, revealing for the first time hard proof of the disparities in salaries and promotions for women and minorities across many industries.

Bezanson became the first woman to get full tenure at Penn, and in the 1930s sat on the National Bureau of Economic Research Price Conference. From 1939 to 1950 Bezanson was a part-time consultant at the Rockefeller Foundation, where she organized the first-ever roundtable on economic history in 1940. As a result of this involvement, Bezanson played a crucial role in the creation of the Economic History Association in the early 1940s, serving as president between 1946–1947. She died in 1980.

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