3 Most Influential Women in Wall Street History

By Sarah Brodsky , last updated January 4, 2012

A 1926 photo from the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society shows a male clerk sitting at a desk; behind him are rows of women occupied with bank paperwork. The black-and-white scene looks surprising forward-thinking for an era when few women could attain positions higher than teacher or office secretary. That is, it seems ahead of its time until you learn that this was a division of the bank dedicated to children's accounts. The children's department was staffed solely by women (whose motherly instincts would presumably equip them to deal with the youngest bank customers) and the man was there to supervise. Women wouldn't gain mainstream acceptance as bank tellers for adult customers until World War II.

Although the U.S. financial sector remained a man's world until the late twentieth century, several women have made their mark on Wall Street history. One of them launched her career just five years after the children's department photo was taken.

Isabel Benham

When Isabel Benham graduated from Bryn Mawr in 1931, there was no obvious career path for women with financial knowledge. Benham sold subscriptions to the New Yorker while she tried to land a job in finance. She found employment with a financial institution, then worked as a statistician and a railroad bond analyst. As a bond analyst, she was paid only about a third of the salary her male predecessor had received. Benham is on record saying that she didn't face discrimination, but the fact that she at one point signed her name "I. Hamilton Benham" to conceal her gender suggests she knew she might encounter prejudice on Wall Street. Benham was promoted to partner of R.W. Pressprich & Co. in 1964. By the end of her sixty-year career, Benham came to be known as the "Mother Superior" of Wall Street for her insightful analysis.

Muriel Siebert

Muriel "Mickie" Siebert studied at Case Western Reserve University, then worked in research at the brokerage Bache & Co. Siebert made history when she bought a seat on the New York Stock Exchange in 1967; the exchange had been an all-male body since its founding in 1792. Siebert had to overcome significant hurdles to obtain her position on Wall Street. The NYSE demanded that a bank lend her $300,000 of the $450,000 she would pay for the seat, but banks refused to grant her the loan unless she was first admitted to the exchange. Even after Siebert persevered and successfully found loans and sponsors, journalists wrote her off as a "Powder Puff." Today, Siebert is finally recognized for her achievements; among other awards, she holds 17 honorary doctorates.

Rosemary McFadden

Rosemary McFadden earned degrees at Rutgers and Seton Hall. After graduating, she worked as an attorney at the New York Mercantile Exchange, and in 1984 she was promoted to president and CEO. McFadden became the first woman to advance to the position of president of a U.S. stock or futures exchange. While she was president, the NYMEX grew by 70 percent a year thanks to McFadden's work in Europe and Asia. Following her work at the NYMEX, McFadden served in senior roles at Price Waterhouse, Credit Suisse First Boston, and other firms.

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