An Interview with Professor Donald Elder: The First Female of Finance

Jul 31, 2018 by

“When a door is hard to open, and if nothing else works, sometimes you just have to rear back and kick it open.” —Muriel Siebert

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

  1. Muriel F. Siebert has some very distinctive accomplishments. She was the first to head a firm that traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Let’s look at her background first: where and when was she born and where was she educated?

Muriel “Mickie” Siebert was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 12, 1928. Siebert did well in school, and in 1949 she gained admission into Western Reserve University (now known as Case Western Reserve University) in her hometown of Cleveland. Unfortunately, during her junior year there her father received a diagnosis of cancer. This disease created a strain on her family’s financial situation, as her father had to give up his dental practice.

For that reason, she decided to leave college before her senior year. Although she thought that she could finish her degree at a later point in time, she never did. But because of her great success in the business world, she would receive 20 honorary doctorates, more than making up for the fact that she did not complete her Bachelor’s degree.

2. During her lifetime, what was the general attitude toward women in finance and marketing in general?

Victoria Woodhull, the first female candidate for president in 1872, had become the first female to own a stock brokerage two years earlier. After Woodhull left the country, that profession became exclusively male once again. While women did gradually find their way back into the world of finance in the twentieth century, most served in clerical or low-level positions in that realm until after the Second World War.

The story of Geraldine Weiss, a highly respected investment strategist, can help illustrate this point. When Weiss founded an investment newsletter in the 1960s, she had to resort to the subterfuge of advertising herself as simply “G. Weiss” before anyone took her services seriously. Muriel Siebert thus faced formidable obstacles when she attempted to make her make in the world of finance when she left college in 1952

3. How did she break the proverbial “glass ceiling” if you will?

In 1954, Siebert decided to seek her fortune in New York City. Upon arriving there, she first applied for a position with Merrill Lynch. That company rejected her when they found out that she had not earned a college degree. Because of that rejection, Siebert decided at her next interview with Bache & Co. that she would tell them that she had indeed received her degree.

This strategy worked, as the company offered her a position as a research analyst. Initially, Bache & Co. assigned her companies to examine that no one with more experience wanted. Undaunted, Siebert threw herself into her work, and proved adept at predicting business trends. Once she established a reputation in the field, Siebert moved up the corporate ladder at a succession of firms until she became a partner at Brimberg & Co.

In 1967, she decided to purchase a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, but that entity refused to allow her to do that until she secured financial backing. Finally, Chase Manhattan Bank agreed to back her, and she became the first female to have a seat on the NYSE. In 1969, she realized a personal dream when she started her own brokerage firm.

4. How were accomplishments recognized?

After she went into business for herself, Siebert gained a reputation for providing sound financial advice. This resulted in the governor of New York offering her the opportunity to become the New York Banking Superintendent. Siebert accepted, and served in that capacity for five years.

After her first foray into public service, Siebert became increasing involved in worthy causes. Ranging from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Boy Scouts of America. Perhaps most importantly, she established a philanthropy to provide financial aid for women who are attempting to found their own companies. During her lifetime, she gave over $5,000,000 to individuals following her entrepreneurial path.

5. What would you say is her legacy, if you will?

By the time of her death in 2013, Siebert had received numerous honors and awards. In 1994, she gained example to the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and in a similar fashion she became a member of the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 2009. She received one very distinctive honor posthumously. In 2016, the New York Stock Exchange named a room in its building Siebert Hall. No other individual has received that honor.

6. What have I neglected to ask?

While women still do not have equity with their male counterparts in the world of finance, they have made steady progress in the last 50 years. Muriel Siebert is a big reason why they have made such large strides. She proved that a woman could do tasks generally regarded as being part of a man’s domain, and did them so well that a long-standing barrier came down. Although not as well-known as other female pioneers, her story should be studied by Americans of all walks of life who hope to become the first to do something.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.