Women's History Month: Five Financial Leaders To Know

Each year, International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8. But the entire month of March is Women’s History Month. At Armed Forces Bank, we wanted to take the opportunity to highlight some specific women who have made their names known in the history books of banking and finance.

Here are just five of the countless women who have been influential in the American financial industry.

Maggie Walker: First Woman to Charter a U.S. Bank

Maggie Walker was born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1864. Her parents were enslaved, but after the Emancipation Proclamation, she was able to attend school where she enjoyed learning about math and accounting.

At age 14, she joined a local organization called the Independent Order of St. Luke’s. This group, which was made up entirely of African Americans, worked to help the sick and elderly in the Richmond community. By 1902, when she was 58 years old, she was in charge of the group’s newspaper, The St. Luke Herald. In the newspaper, she encouraged African Americans in Richmond to make economic moves by starting their own businesses.

And Maggie was on her way to doing just that. She founded the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in 1903, which was primarily intended for African American banking clients. That’s because Black people frequently faced discrimination from other banks and financial institutions. When she founded St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, she became the first woman ever -- of any race -- to charter a bank in the U.S. It eventually merged with The Consolidated Bank and Trust Company, but it is still in operation today.

Muriel Siebert: First Woman Member of the NYSE

Muriel Siebert was born in 1928 in Cleveland, Ohio. At Western Reserve University, she focused on her business classes, where she was often the only woman.

During college, she visited New York City on a trip. When she saw the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), she was amazed and told all her friends she was going to work there
someday. While she was unable to finish her schooling as her father became sick and she moved home, she never gave up on her dream. She lied about having a college degree so she could work as a researcher for Bache & Company, a securities firm that provided stock brokerage and investment banking services.

Muriel didn’t like that she was making less money than men for doing the same job, so sheasked a friend of hers -- who was an investor -- how she could make the same as a man could. Her friend suggested she buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. So she set out to findan application sponsor. While the first nine people she asked refused, the 10th sponsor helped out, and Chase Manhattan bank loaned her the money she needed. In December 1967, Muriel became the first woman to ever become a member of the NYSE.

Janet Yellen: First Woman Chair of the Federal Reserve and First Woman Secretary of the Treasury

Janet Yellen was born in 1946 in Brooklyn, New York. After she got her bachelor’s degree in economics from Brown University, she went for her Ph.D. in economics from Yale. The early years of her career were spent teaching economics at business schools around the world such as Harvard, the London School of Economics, the University of California-Berkeley, and the Haas School of Business.

In 1994, she served as a member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System;later, she would become the head of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers. Shealso was the Chair of the Economic Policy Committee of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

When she returned to California, Janet was appointed president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and vice chair of the Board of Governors. In 2013, President Barack Obama nominated her to be the chair of the Federal Reserve, a position she held for four years beginning in 2014.

Recently, Janet was appointed Secretary of the Treasury by President Joe Biden. In doing so, she became the first woman to ever hold this position. She also had been the first woman to be chair of the Federal Reserve. In addition, she was the first person ever -- of any gender -- to lead the three most powerful economic bodies in the Federal government of the U.S.: the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve, and the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Sheila Bair: 19th Chair of the FDIC

Sheila Bair was born in 1954 in Independence, Kansas, just three hours away from our headquarters in Fort Leavenworth. Sheila got her bachelor’s degree from the University of
Kansas and worked as a bank teller before going back to KU to get her law degree. In 1981, Kansas State Senator Bob Dole invited her to join his counsel in Washington, D.C., and she accepted the position.

She spent time working in several other positions during her career: Commissioner and Acting Chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Senior Vice President for Government Relations of the NYSE, Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and Dean's Professor of Financial Regulatory Policy for the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Sheila is most well-known for being appointed as the 19th Chair of the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation by George W. Bush in 2006. She was the third woman to have held this position, but she was a key player in the handling of one of the most tumultuous periods in the history of the U.S. banking system: the 2008 financial crisis. She worked hard to improve public confidence and was an influential part of financial policies such as the Consumer Protection Act of 2010.

Adena Friedman: First Woman to Lead a Global Exchange

Adena Friedman was born in the Baltimore area in 1969. She went on to attend Williams College, where she got her bachelor’s degree in political science; then, she got her MBA from
Vanderbilt University. Adena graduated from Vanderbilt and accepted a position at Nasdaq, where she spent many years of her career. She was appointed the head of data products as well as the Chief Financial Officer. She left Nasdaq to work at a private investment group before returning to Nasdaq and becoming the company’s CEO in 2017.

With that, Adena became the first woman in the world to lead a global exchange. She also serves as a Class B director to the Federal Reserve Bank in New York City, making her the only global exchange leader to have ever done this.

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