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FILENE, family of entrepreneurs, social reformers, and philanthropists in Boston. Progenitor of the family in America was WILLIAM FILENE (1830–?) who emigrated to the United States after the German revolution of 1848, and became owner of two stores in Lynn, Mass. In 1881 William Filene founded William Filene's Sons Company, a department store, in Boston. He turned over control of his stores to his sons in 1890, and together they built a multimillion-dollar merchandising empire. EDWARD ALBERT. (1860–1937) and A. LINCOLN FILENE (1865–1957) were innovators in merchandising techniques and employer-employee relations. They introduced the idea of the "bargain basement" where goods were sold at reduced prices. They pioneered in establishing minimum wage scales for female employees, employee welfare plans, paid winter vacations for employees, employee purchasing discounts, profit sharing, health clinics, insurance programs, and credit unions, Filene's was the first department store in Boston to establish a five-day, 40-hour week.

Edward Filene was born in Salem, Mass. Entering his father's dry goods business in 1880, he became president of Filene's department store in 1908. He was a leading member of the Boston Chamber of Commerce, which he helped organize; later he was a founder of the United States Chamber of Commerce and the International Chamber of Commerce. As chairman of Boston's Committee on Industrial Relations, Edward played a pivotal role in the passage of Massachusetts' first workmen's compensation law in 1911, the first form of institutionalized social insurance in the United States. Edward believed that cooperative private enterprise and higher wages were necessary to raise consumer purchasing power and thereby avert economic depressions. He favored paying workers a "buying" wage instead of a near-subsistence "living" wage, In 1909 he secured enactment of the first credit union law in America in Massachusetts. In 1934 he organized the Credit Union National Association and donated $1,000,000 for its work, He also gave $1,000,000 to the Consumers Distribution Corporation to organize a national chain of cooperative retail stores. Throughout his life Edward took an active part in the world peace movement. In 1915 he joined the League to Enforce the Peace. After World War I he backed the League of Nations. In 1919 he founded the Twentieth Century Fund, which conducts investigations of social and economic problems with an emphasis on finding solutions. He wrote Speaking of Change (1939).

A. Lincoln Filene was born in Boston. He became treasurer and chairman of the board of Filene's in 1941, and was long active in civic and communal affairs, Lincoln believed that mass purchasing by department stores, and research to improve their efficiency, would benefit the consumer by allowing lower prices. He himself was a leader in the development of scientific methods of retail store management. In 1937 he established the Lincoln and Therese Filene Foundation, which funded the first educational television station in Boston in 1955. Lincoln Filene wrote Merchants' Horizon (1924).

Both brothers were social reformers who believed that capitalism had to operate more efficiently to avert radical reforms and advance the welfare of the individual. Both Edward and Lincoln Filene actively backed President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. At a time when most American employers attacked Roosevelt for being too radical, the Filene brothers helped prevent a complete split between the president and the business community.


G.W. Johnson, Liberal's Progress (1948); Filler, in: DAB, supplement, 2 (1958), 183–5.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.