Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Primary Source Mother Lode: The St. Francis Xavier University Online Archives

In the early 20th century, St. Francis Xavier, a small Catholic college in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, stood as one of North America's most innovative and active institutions working in support of cooperative development. Beginning in the mid-1930s, Roy Bergengren began corresponding with some of the leading lights at St. Francis Xavier (particularly Father Moses Coady), which led to a great deal of mutual influence between the American credit union and the "Antigonish" movements.

Given this history, I've been wanting to make a trip to Antigonish for a while now in order to dig through the Coady-Bergengren correspondence that is housed in their archives. Though such a journey remains in the realm of idle fantasy for the moment due to lack of funds, I was extremely excited today to discover that they have made a substantial chunk of their collection available to the public through an online archive!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Best. Anniversary. Present. Ever.

My girlfriend tried her hand at making me a t-shirt tribute to Roy Bergengren, with epic results. CU History nerds, eat your hearts out, cuz this baby's one of a kind!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Book Review - The Ownership of Enterprise by Henry Hansmann

Given the almost total absence of the cooperative model from mainstream business school discourse, I was recently delighted to hear that an acquaintance was teaching an "Introduction to Cooperatives" course at a college in Connecticut. I was quite curious to see what such a course would consist of, so I went on the website and downloaded the syllabus. While the students were exposed to a diversity of readings, the core of the course seemed to be built around one book, The Ownership of Enterprise by Henry Hansmann. Intrigued, I got my hands on the text and began digging in.

As its title suggests, the purpose of Hansmann's book is, fundamentally, the investigation of the forms of ownership that are prevalent in different sectors of the economy. Using a perspective that leverages tools from both economics and political science (he understands the governance of firms to be subject to similar political dynamics that public choice theory dissects in government), Hansmann starts off by offering a general theory of ownership that relies on two key factors.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Occupy Your Credit Union! A Tactic for Activist Members

    While the financial crisis and economic malaise of the past few years has been truly devastating, one silver lining has been the development of increased awareness of the democratic cooperative model of financial services embodied by the credit union movement. Hundred of thousands of people responded to the call to "move your money" around Bank Transfer Day, and both the rate of growth and the stature of the credit union movement is higher than it has been in a very long time.

    All of this is very exciting! However, it only represents the first step in achieving a just financial system. Being a credit union member is not basically the same as being a bank customer who gets better rates and fewer fees; rather, at its core, credit union membership means that you own your bank. With that ownership comes not simply a claim to your fair share of the profits that Bank of America would otherwise have shipped off to its shareholders, but the right to have an equal say in determining the policies and priorities of your credit union.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Wikipedia, that dear friend of the procrastinating history student, has declared that it will black out its website tomorrow to protest the insidious PIPA/SOPA bills that are wending their ways through Congress. Credit Union History fully supports this effort, and we will be suspending the site from 7am-7pm in solidarity. Furthermore, we encourage our readers to check out the Wikimedia Foundation's statement on the issue, call their Congresspeople to register their disapproval of this Draconian threat to the free and open exchange of ideas on the Internet, and otherwise publicly demonstrate your opposition to the bills. The Internet will not be trifled with!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Two Days in Manchester: The Tale of My Trip to America's Credit Union Museum

After dreaming of taking such a trip for the better part of a year and planning it for the past few weeks, last Wednesday I finally left my home in Burlington, Vermont for a two day visit to America's Credit Union Museum in Manchester, New Hampshire. It being northern New England, nasty weather was naturally on its way, so I hit the road in the early afternoon to avoid the impending deluge of ice and snow, and arrived in time grab dinner and drinks with my New Hampshirite friend and fellow mutualist nerd Julia Riber-Pitt.

After some good beer and interesting conversation at Jillians (a local restaurant and pool hall), my mile-long stroll back to the hotel was livened by a parade of gorgeous old historical buildings. Manchester is a classic 19th-century New England industrial town, with enormous, long red-brick mills (now repurposed for a variety of functions) lining both sides of the river that flows through the center of the city. Indeed, America's first credit union, the original site of which is now occupied by the museum, was established to serve the French Canadian immigrants who worked in those mills, and many of the houses that lined my path were built in that era as well.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Credit Union Songs from the Founding of CUNA

After braving the icy roads back to Burlington, VT from my trip to America's Credit Union Museum in Manchester, NH, I have so many things to write about! A full recap of the trip will be forthcoming [*Update: Read it here*], but, in the meantime, I figured I'd treat Credit Union History readers to a fun find: a collection of credit union songs found in Edward Filene's diary from the Credit Union National Association's 1934 founding convention in Estes Park, CO! Included are such toe-tapping numbers as:

"The Old Loan Shark" (to the tune of "The Old Gray Mare")
"Credit Union Fellowship Song" ("Sidewalks of New York")
"Edward A. Filene" ("Yankee Doodle")
"Credit Union, Parley-Voo" ("Hinkey-Dinkey, Parley-Voo")
"Theme Song for Estes Park Credit Union Conference" ("The Man on the Flying Trapeze")
"Song of the Credit Union Widow to her Husband" ("Till We Meet Again")
"Song of the Credit Union Spinsters" ("Silver Threads Among the Gold")

I have to say, I'm looking forward to The Disclosures putting out a grind-core cover of one of these classics. Until that happens, though, I'll leave you with a recent video from those modern toubadours that continues the proud tradition of credit union people writing goofy songs about our movement...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Book Review - Cumet by Roy Bergengren

Written on the ship purser's portable type-writer while returning home from his own European tour in 1933, Cumet: A Fantasy Having to do With Credit Union Mass European Tours (CUMET being an acronym for Credit Union Mass European Tours) is a thirty-four page pamphlet very much inspired by Roy Bergengren's anxieties over the potential for renewed world war. Written in a light, conversational style and hitting on many of the themes treated in greater depth in his 1932 book We the People, Cumet is, in essence, a proposed strategy by which the credit union movement might contribute to heading off such a conflict.

At the core of his proposal is the idea that "all the peoples of the earth would, if they could, live at peace. I believe that they need only to know each other--for they have common hopes and joys and sorrows and a common urge to find happiness." (34) In a world that is rich in relationships that cross international boundaries, Bergengren argues that war would difficult to justify, since people would viscerally understand it as an attack upon people they care about rather than faceless foreigners.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

"Ownership Salience" in Credit Unions (and Cooperatives)

An extremely interesting and unique characteristic of credit unions (and cooperatives generally) is the nature of their relationships with their member-owners. While often understood simply in terms of members' contractual and legal rights, the movement's history clearly suggests that the ways in which members conceptualize their relationship to their credit unions can vary extremely widely between institutions with identical governance structures. Such differences, in turn, can often exert profound influence on the developmental paths of different credit unions, and thus must be understood as driven by subjective, rather than structural, factors. One such dynamic that that I've found particularly useful and compelling when considering credit union development is something I've come to refer to as "ownership salience."

By this I mean, simply, the intensity with which a credit union member psychologically and behaviorally internalizes the fact that he or she owns their credit union. When ownership salience is entirely lacking, members simply treats their relationship with their credit union relationship as identical in kind to the customer relationship with a bank or other non-member owned business. This sort of person is a credit union member simply because it is the most attractive option on the market, and, when thinking about their institution, he or she uses the pronouns "they" and/or "it" (as in, "They made a donation to the food shelf"). If such a person has a negative experience, their natural response is no different than it would be at a bank: take their business elsewhere.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Book Review - People Helping People: A History of the Maine Credit Union Movement

"People Helping People," is a well-used credit union slogan, and also, it turns out, a common title for books about state movements. Edward M. Walters used the phrase for his 2009 history of credit unionism in Texas, but it's first appearance seems to be on John W. Zerillo and Ted Desveaux's 2004 book People Helping People: A History of the Maine Credit Union Movement.

Though commissioned and published by the Maine Credit Union League, Zerillo and Desveaux's work is especially interesting because, unlike many other trade-association supported histories (including the aforementioned work by Walters and Moody and Fite's CUNA-sponsored national history), it doesn't treat the development of its sponsoring organization as a proxy for the history of the movement as a whole. While the Maine Credit Union League is the focus of one quite readable and interesting chapter, the most fascinating parts of the book come when the authors tell stories of early credit unionism that highlight the culture of the early credit union movement.