Thursday, January 17, 2013

Females & Finance in the late 1800s

Image from the County Capital, the newspaper to which Isaac subscribed
Two of homesteader Isaac Werner's closest neighbors were single women with claims of their own.  He was friendly and supportive of both his unmarried "spinster" neighbor Persis Vosburgh and his divorced mother of four neighbor Isabel Ross.  I will write more about the surprising number of single, female homesteaders in a later post, but this week's post is about Women and Wall street.  While doing research in the actual copies of the County Capital available at the Stafford County Historical Society, I discovered the wonderful image and story shown above.  Isaac would certainly have seen this story, and one of the things about which he was most certain was women's rights, something the Populist Movement supported more than the other political parties of that time, Republican or Democrat. 
Ironically, among the individuals Isaac and the People's Party most disliked were speculators and Wall Streeters.  Therefore, while Isaac would have had no problem with the general idea of women being capable of doing whatever they chose to do, because he disliked the entire class of speculators and Wall Streeters, it would have been interesting to have seen his reaction to this story.
The story reads in part, "The fever of Wall street speculation has reached the women of New York.  There are at present enough women gamblers in stocks to make it profitable to run a stock broker's office exclusively for women."  (Remember, you can click on the image to enlarge it in order to read more of the story.)  This story, published in a Populist newspaper, used the derogatory term "gamblers" rather than "stock investors."  The image is from an 1890 newspaper.
The history of the New York Stock Exchange goes back to May 17, 1792, when 24 stockbrokers gathered under a buttonwood tree and signed an agreement to establish rules for buying and selling bonds and shares of companies.  The name by which it is currently known was shortened from the original name in 1863.  You can read more about the history of the NYSE at      
The exact location of the "cozy room made attractive to the feminine eye and equiped with all the accessories usually found in the downtown broker's office" is not identified in the story.  According to a Bloomberg article by Kristin Aguilera, the first women to own a Wall Street brokerage were sisters, Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin, whose firm was known as Woodhull, Claflin & Co.  A New York Times story published in 1870 about the opening of their business predicted "a short, speedy winding up of the firm."
Aguilera's article cites Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010 stating that "women held 53.2 % of the financial management positions in the U.S. and 37.7 % of the financial analyst positions."   At the time of writing the article, Kristin Aguilera was the deputy director of the Museum of American Finance and the editor of Financial History magazine.  You can read the full article at
While it may surprise many that women were active traders on Wall Street so early, full acceptance of women did not come for decades.  The first woman to own a seat on the NYSE was Muriel "Mickie" Siebert who joined 1,365 men at the exchange as the sole woman on December 28, 1967.  Two endorsements are required on the application to become a member, and Siebert was turned down by nine prospective sponsors before finding two men willing to sign for her.
The anomosity Isaac felt toward speculators and Wall Streeters was caused largely by his beliefs about two things:  manipulation of commodity prices to keep famers from receiving a fair price for the crops and livestock they raised and political power that enabled the wealthy to control Senators and Congressmen, both state and federal, to enact laws that favored the wealthy.  Today, many farmers use commodity markets to protect themselves from wide price fluctuations for the crops they raise, and agri-business controls powerful lobbying of politicians.  Neither of the present political parties has exculsively attracted the laborers, miners, and farmers that comprised the old People's Party of Isaac's day, but the perception of the wealthy exerting disproportionate political power remains.  We are left to wonder what Isaac would have thought of today's voter alignment and of women on Wall Street.  





1 comment:

The Blog Fodder said...

Isaac had it right and not much has changed