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Getting to know the 'Mother of Modern Management'

Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Margaret Stout, associate professor in the Department of Public Administration and co-author of “Integrative Process: Follettian Thinking from Ontology to Administration” for her insights on the life of Mary Parker Follett.

Mary Parker Follett
Mary Parker Follett

Progressive Era theorist Mary Parker Follett is a woman who many scholars believe would have become known as one of the most brilliant political and organizational philosophers of the century if she was given the same educational opportunities as women today.

Born in the late 19th century, Follett lived in a world where women were denied access to the most basic rights: voting, education, property management and most careers.

The West Virginia University Department of Public Administration is set to host a conference about Follett’s work, The Future of Progressivism: Applying Follettian Thinking to Contemporary Issues July 12-14.

The conference will celebrate organizational theorist Follett’s 150th birthday, an influential social worker and pioneer in organizational theory whose ideas were far ahead of her time.

Despite being denied admission to Harvard University, Follett went on to study at the University of Cambridge as well as the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women, today known as Radcliffe College.

Follett drew from any discipline that could help her understand how people could work together more effectively. Known as the “Mother of Modern Management,” her work in community organization and education has influenced disciplines like social work, political science, business management and leadership studies. The transdisciplinary nature of her work separated her from other scholars of her time.

She advocated for the concept of “power with” rather than “power over,” and suggested that as long as the power dynamics remained between the political system and the public, systemic problems would remain.

In today’s heated political climate, the door has re-opened for scholars and practitioners to gain a deeper understanding of Follett’s timeless concepts and incorporate them into practice.

The conference will celebrate those transdisciplinary ideas as well as Follett’s legacy. It is designed to be a truly Follettian experience, as brief presentations will be given followed by deliberate dialogue and discussion.

Photo credit: Mary Parker Follett Network