Dollars and Sense

Celebrating Our Fore-Sisters

By Colette Powers 

As a woman in finance, I’ve often wondered what it was like to be in the financial sector at a time when women weren’t afforded the same opportunities as men, when social norms assumed women would naturally want to tend to domestic duties.

What were the social, cultural, intellectual and emotional beliefs these women had to overcome? How did their accomplishments influence the success and opportunities of 21st century financial pioneers?

Historical perspective is so important. It helps us appreciate what our fore-sisters experienced and appreciate the opportunities we have. And don’t forget: we, too, are forging history today.

Let’s take a moment to think back, and honor some of these women.

Abigail Adams (1744 – 1818) was the wife of John Adams, and the country’s first lady from 1797 to 1801. She was one of the earliest documented female investors in our nation’s history. Her husband’s travel often left Abigail alone to run the farm and finances. John thought it was wise to invest in farmland, but Abigail decided to invest in government bonds instead. This proved to be a more lucrative investment. (1)

In 1870, Victoria Woodhull (1838 – 1927) and her sister, Tennessee Clafin (1845 – 1923), opened the first female-owned brokerage firm — Woodhull, Claflin & Company — and became the first female stockbrokers on Wall Street. To fit in with the men, they had custom-made dresses to hide their femininity. However, their gender did not go unnoticed. Victoria was also the first woman to run for president. (1)

Sarah Breedlove (1867 – 1919), founder of Madame C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company, developed her own beauty and hair products for African-American women. She was one of the world’s most successful female entrepreneurs of her time, and one of the most successful African-American business owners ever. (2)

Isabel Benham (1909 – 2013) started her career as a railroad bond analyst on Wall Street in the 1930s. She believed people would have greater respect for her research if they thought she was a man, so she signed her name Hamilton Benham. She later became highly respected for her work, despite her true identity being revealed. (1)

Muriel “Mickie” Siebert (1932 – 2013), known as the first woman of finance, was the first woman to purchase a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, in December 1967. She had been turned down nine times before she found two sponsors. Her appointment caused quite a stir, as evidenced by the headlines of the time, “Skirt Invades Exchange” and “Powder Puff on Wall Street.” (1)

In 2000, Martha Stewart became America’s first self-made female billionaire after taking her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, public a year earlier. In 2014, Oprah Winfrey became the first African-American female billionaire. The same year, Janet Yellen became the first woman to serve as chair of the Federal Reserve. (3) SWM

(1) Kristen Aguilera’s A History of Wall Street’s Women: Echoes. Found at articles/2011-12-28/a-history-of-wall-street-s-women-echoes.
(2) Edward Glaeser’s Triumph of the City: How Our Best Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier
(3) Forbes’ A Timeline Of Women And Wealth: The First Female Millionaires, Billionaires & CEOs and the Policies That Paved the Way for Them. Found at tanyaklich/2017/03/08/the-first-women-of-wealth-and-the-policies-that-paved-theirway/#59e779917fb8

Colette Powers is a Financial Advisor with UBS Financial Services Inc., 440 S. Warren St., Syracuse, NY 13202. Any information presented is general in nature and not intended to provide individually tailored investment, tax or legal advice. Investing involves risks and there is always the potential of losing money when you invest. The information provided may be deemedreliable; however, the accuracy and completeness is not guaranteed by UBS Financial Services Inc. The views expressed herein are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect the views of UBS Financial Services Inc. As a firm providing wealth management services to clients, we offer both investment advisory and brokerage services. These services are separate and distinct, differ in material ways and are governed by different laws and separate contracts.

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