By Kayla Hutzler
Monday, August 24, 2009
The Museum of American Finance is showcasing 10 famous Wall Street women, two living and the rest historic. The main planner says she was spurred by the passage last January of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Do the names Victoria Woodhull, Hetty Green or Muriel Siebert ring a bell?
If not, the Museum of American Finance is ready to make them more familiar with the "Women of Wall Street" exhibit, which takes up one wall of its building at 48 Wall Street in lower Manhattan.
The exhibit, which opened June 9, runs through January 26, 2010.
It spotlights 10 female financiers.
Leena Akhtar, the museum's director of exhibits and archives, presented the idea to the board last January, following President Barack Obama's signing of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which strengthened the 1963 Equal Pay act.
Akhtar said the board approved the idea extremely quickly. Most museums, she said, take at least a year to create a special exhibit.
"The original intent was to first tell a story that doesn't get told often and, secondly, to inspire, give advice and guide younger professional women who wish to join the financial world," said Akhtar. She worked in the financial field at a brokerage company and then at a private management firm before coming to work for the museum.
Most of the featured women are historical, but one of them, Muriel Siebert, 77, is very much alive and spoke at the opening off the exhibit.
Siebert, the first woman to purchase her own seat on the New York Stock Exchange in 1967, founded her own brokerage firm, Muriel Siebert and Co., that same year. She took a leave of absence from her firm between 1977 and 1982 to serve New York state as its superintendent of banking. After that she resumed the helm.
Another of the featured women who is still alive is Isabel Benham, who was one of five women in her graduating class in 1931 to receive a degree in economics. She became the first woman to be named partner at a Wall Street bond house, R.W. Pressprich and Co., and is also responsible for the policy of "open access," which is now used in the fields of railroad, telecommunications, pipelines and utilities industries. Open access is when a service is available to clients other than the owners, for a fee. She is turning 100 this year.
The exhibit also offers audio and video commentary by contemporary Wall Street women on how they got started, any discrimination they faced and what they're doing now.
"I think that the addition of women and people of diverse backgrounds has had an enormously beneficial impact on not just the office culture, but on the quality of the work that's getting done," said Abby Joseph Cohen, a partner and chief investment strategist at Goldman Sachs and Co.
Among those viewing the exhibit one day earlier this summer was Andrea Coyle, who takes an occupational interest in the showcasing of historic women.
Coyle, director of outreach for the East Village History Project, conducts a weekly "Women Movers and Shakers" tour.
Coyle said she was a big fan of the Victoria Woodhull display, especially the real artifacts, such as a copy of the original Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly, a journal that became most known for its coverage and opinions on taboo topics of the time, such as sex education and free love.
Woodhull has been obscured by time, but was nationally famous during the 1870s when she and her sister became the first women to open their own brokerage firm, Woodhull, Claflin and Company. They plowed some of their profits into the publication of Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly, which was distributed throughout New York.
It was in these pages that Woodhull announced her plans to run for President, the first woman to do so, in the 1872 election.
That set off a frenzy of negative media interest in the free-love proponent. Reporters scoured her personal life, detailing the two sisters' lovers and sometimes labeling them whores.
Amber Ellis, 13, was also viewing the exhibit the day Women's eNews was there.
Ellis found the details about Hetty Green, the successful bond investor whose notorious aversion to spending money--even on the health care of her own ailing son--earned her the nickname The Witch of Wall Street.
"When the tour guide said she was known for having such dirty fingernails that she wasn't allowed to touch the items in a store, I thought that was crazy," said Ellis, who was attending the tour as part of a summer mentor program by United Activities United Unlimited, based in New York City.
When Green died in 1916 her fortune--estimated at $7.5 million when she inherited it from her father in 1864--was estimated at more than $100 million (over $17 billion in today's dollars).
She made much of her profit by investing in real estate and railroads and lending money. In 1907, she lent New York $1.1 million during the panic of 1907 and took her payment in short-term revenue bonds.
Jessica Perkins, 21, a summer intern at New York Life Investments who hopes to one day work on Wall Street, also liked the stories about Green. "The stories about her reminded me of my Grandma," she said.
There's also a "Women of Wall Street" walking tour, but here the title is a bit misleading. The few stories about women that it contains seem tacked on to the regular tour of Wall Street landmarks.
On the day that Women's eNews took the walking tour, the group consisted of about 20 women, covering a wide spectrum of ages.
Ariana Oateman, 20, a tour member, said her favorite story concerned Delmonicos, which opened in 1837 and became the first fine-dining restaurant in the country, with a 35-page menu.
At the time it was unusual for customers to be able to order from a menu--much less one that extensive. They usually just ate what the cook decided to make that night.
One of Delmonico's rules: Women were only allowed if they had a male companion.
On one occasion, the tour guide said, the Woodhull sisters wanted to eat at the restaurant, so they got around the rule by requiring their driver to sit down and dine with them there.
By 1860 the restaurant opened its doors to women who wished to eat on their own.
The tour takes visitors down Stone Street--which is now only about a block long and houses restaurants and an outdoor seating area--often crowded with Wall Street employees during lunch hour.
Fraunces Tavern also offers holds on women's history, or perhaps legend, in its walls. Here John Fraunces' daughter, Phoebe, is said by some to have saved George Washington's life. After Phoebe heard other customers saying they had poisoned his food, she told her innkeeper father and they had the food removed from the table and thrown out in the backyard, where hours later chickens that ate the discarded food were found dead.
The walking tour is coordinated by Wall Street Walks and the American Museum of Finance.
The museum, founded in 1988 by John Herzog, is an affiliate of the Smithsonian and is currently the nation's only museum of finance, entrepreneurship and the open market system.
Wall Street Walks, which gives daily tours of Wall Street, was founded by Annaline Dinkelmann in 2006. It is part of the New York Visitor and Convention Bureau and a partner of the American Museum of Finance.
On the day Women's eNews took the tour, Dinkelmann was the tour guide. She came to the United States from South Africa in 2006 and worked for Morgan Stanley until 2006, at which point she decided she needed a lifestyle change.
Whatever Dinkelmann's reason for leaving the financial industry, she reflects a trend of defections among women.
Since December 2006, when employment in the financial sector hit a peak for the past decade, female employment has fallen 4.7 percent to 3.8 million.
Male employment has dropped by 3.2 percent to 2.1 million, according to the government's Current Employment Statistics survey reported in Forbes March 2009 issue.
Kayla Hutzler, a journalism major at Manhattan College, is a former editorial intern with Women's eNews.
Museum of American Finance
Wall Street Walks
East Village History Project
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