It was 50 years ago today – December 28, 1967 – that Muriel Siebert, known as “Mickie” and the “First Woman of Finance”, became the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). One of many “firsts” to come in her epic career as a leader and legend in the financial industry, Mickie’s rise to the top was marked with challenges and obstacles, all of which she fiercely faced, head-on.
After her father’s death, a then twenty-something Mickie made the decision to walk away from her unfinished accounting/business degree, and drive from Cleveland to New York to find a job on Wall Street. “She was rejected outright for her lack of experience and university education,” according to Investopedia. Undeterred, Mickie eventually landed herself a position as an entry-level research analyst. From there, fueled by intense tenacity, she didn’t stop climbing Wall Street’s corporate ladder until she made her way to the very top.
“I put my head down and charge.” – Muriel Siebert, on dealing with obstacles
But like many professional women in the 60s, particularly those in finance, Mickie encountered a significant amount of sexism and contempt from her colleagues. When she first applied to buy a seat on the Exchange, she needed a sponsor for her membership application. The first nine of the ten men she asked for support turned her down. The 10th agreed. Then, before considering her for membership, the NYSE suddenly imposed a “new requirement” – she would need a bank letter to show the secured funds – $300,000 – of the record breaking $445,000 price of her seat. There was one big problem… the banks wouldn’t show her their commitment of the funds until the NYSE would confirm her admittance. “There would be no loan until I was accepted, and I couldn’t be accepted without the loan.”
It took nearly two years to overcome this imposed gridlock, but once elected, Mickie achieved her next first – she founded her own firm, Muriel Siebert & Co., Inc., making her the first woman to own a NYSE member firm. Until her death in August 2013, she remained the only woman to head a publicly traded national brokerage firm.
“Take stands, take risks, take responsibility – the real risk lies in continuing to do things the way they’ve always been done.” – Muriel Siebert, on the secret to making a difference
A decade later, in 1977, Mickie took a leave of absence from her firm to achieve yet another first, (her third if you are keeping track)… to serve as the first woman Superintendent of Banking for the State of New York. In this role, she was responsible for the safety and soundness of all banks and other financial institutions in New York State. This was the highest position in banking supervision or regulation ever obtained by a woman at the time. To reinforce her clout, Mickie jokingly reminded the bankers that the initials for her title as Superintendent of Banking were “S.O.B.” Not one bank failed during her tenure, despite the many that failed nationwide.
In 1982, Mickie resigned as Superintendent to run in the Republican primary for the New York Senate seat of Daniel Patrick Moynihan. She finished second behind State Assemblywoman Florence Sullivan, who went on to lose to Moynihan in the election.
From her struggle to obtain her NYSE seat and throughout her career, Mickie was always a big supporter of women in finance and industry. As an advocate of women’s rights, she developed the program Financial Literacy for Women with the non-profit group New York Women’s Agenda in 1998.
Financial literacy was somewhat of an obsession for Mickie. After launching the Financial Literacy program for women, she expanded her efforts to include educating young people about money matters too. She invested over $1 million of her own money to develop a personal finance course for high school students. The course – The Siebert Personal Finance Program: Taking Control of Your Financial Future – included financial management skills such as handling a checkbook and how to use credit cards, as well as the basics of money: banking, insurance, budgeting, taxes, etc.
In recognition of her impressive rise to the top, her epic career, and resolute commitment to providing others with the tools to achieve success and make change, Mickie received countless awards and honors throughout her career, including being the first woman selected as “one who has made a difference” for the Working Women’s Hall of Fame. In 1994, she was inducted into the International Women’s Forum Hall of Fame in the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, NY. In March 2007 she was honored with the “Pioneering Woman Award” from the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC.
The “First Woman of Finance” passed away at the age of 84 in August 2013. To learn more about Muriel Siebert, her autobiography Changing the Rules: Adventures of a Wall Street Maverick follows her career and chronicles her various experiences on Wall Street.