Faith, family, finance and a familiar face

Christina Winch never set out to be a pioneer in women’s finance. She was just happy to give advice when people asked. “I was teaching in high school and when somebody asked me a question about their money, I’d give them an answer. And then another person would ask and then another and it blossomed from there,” she said. Soon, the English teacher was hosting informal financial seminars after school in the lunchroom. She loved encouraging people to take control of their finances and saw a genuine need to help people who had no idea how to plan for their retirement. So, she earned her licenses and began a formal shift into the financial world. In 1981, Christina opened a financial advisory firm and, 40 years later, many of the teachers who attended those lunchroom sessions are still her clients, along with more than 800 other people from around the country. “Christina is an energetic, gregarious person who enjoys engaging others,” said Bev Underwood, a former teacher and current client who used to attend those lunchroom sessions. “Whether teaching or financial planning, one needs to connect with people; the skills overlap.” Bev and Christina used to carpool to the high school, along with two other teachers. “In addition to being economical, the camaraderie and laughs made the journey fun for all,” Bev said. “Before leaving for school Christina would make breakfast (often pancakes) for (her kids) and leave them in that new kitchen appliance, the microwave. She wanted them to be well fed and ready to learn when they headed out to school.” Today, all three of Christina’s adult children are licensed financial advisors working in the firm. In both teaching and financial planning, Christina has enjoyed offering conventional wisdom in unconventional ways. She designed and taught “the Bible as literature” to high-risk public high school students and they loved the class. In fact, they often stop in to catch… | Read More »

Grace Hyslop never balked at a challenge

Grace Hyslop began her historic career in finance by working with chicken farmers and she never balked at a challenge. Hyslop, who graduated high school at age 12 and immediately accepted a job as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse, became the first woman to hold a seat on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Later, in her 60s, she went to graduate school, earned a Master’s Degree in neuropsychology and began a fourth career working with people who had learning disabilities. All those paths crossed in Nebraska where she raised six children and had a stock ticker installed in her home library. She and her husband Mark launched their lucrative career in what is now known as derivatives by buying eggs and chickens from farmers and selling them to the military during World War II. At that time, egg futures offered a way for people working in the poultry business to hedge their risk. Mark began commuting once a week to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where he and Grace’s efforts as market hedgers provided him an in to buy a seat on the exchange. Meanwhile, Grace followed the action from their home, thanks to their home ticker. As the family made plans to move to Chicago, Mark suffered a fatal heart attack. Rather than selling his CME membership, Grace applied for his seat. Although the board eventually granted her the seat, they did not allow her to walk the floor. She bought and sold contracts, but had to do it through an intermediary, eventually her son Mark. They might not have wanted to see her on the floor, but exchange members were interested in using Grace in their marketing. A 1961 bulletin included this description of her, “The new member stated that she hopes to interest more women to trade in commodities handled on the C.M.E.” An additional report offered this assessment, “She has various women customers and feels that women… | Read More »

Muriel Siebert made history by taking stands, risks and responsibility

Muriel “Mickie” Siebert knew how to get things done. As the first women to hold a seat on the New York Stock Exchange (and only one among 1,365 men for the next 10 years), Mickie set an example of fiscal shrewdness and responsibility for investors of all genders. Called home in the wake of her father’s illness, Mickie never graduated from college. Still, she built such an impressive career in finance that Case Western University bestowed on her an honorary doctorate for her “groundbreaking career and advocacy for women in finance.” Mickie earned the nickname “First Lady of Finance” and her accomplishments both elevated and transcended her gender. As New York’s Superintendent of Banking, she shepherded the state’s institution through a troubling period without losing a single bank. In 1969 she founded the first female-owned brokerage firm, Siebert Brokerage, which continues to thrive today. The day after Congress granted brokers the right to charge flexible rather than fixed commissions in 1975, Siebert, who had positioned her discount brokerage firm perfectly for this development, ran a full-page newspaper ad that showed her cutting a $100 bill in half with a pair of scissors. The stunt attracted customers, but offended her clearing house, which gave her 60 days to move her accounts. She managed to do this, despite some difficulties. Symbolic of her lifelong efforts to encourage female investors, Siebert also famously managed to get a women’s bathroom installed on the seventh floor of the NYSE by threatening to have a porta-potty placed there instead. In 1990 she established the Siebert Entrepreneurial/Philanthropic Plan (SEPP), a program that donates to charity 50 percent of the net commission revenues Muriel Siebert & Co. earns on sales of new-issue equity, municipal, and government bonds. Though she died of cancer in 2013 at the age of 80, Muriel Siebert continues to influence the world of finance through her thriving business and enduring philosophy, “Take stands. Take… | Read More »

The Witch of Wall Street and her enduring legacy

They called her “the Witch of Wall Street” and Hetty Green didn’t seem to mind. Her singular focus on wringing every ounce of value out of her money made her wealthy and, more importantly, allowed her to maintain control over her own life. “It is the duty of every woman, I believe, to learn to take care of her own business affairs,” she said. While her ideas might have been radical at the time, her investing strategy was not. Hetty believed in research, patience, discernment and value. She claimed she never made a business deal without sleeping on it overnight. “I believe in getting in at the bottom and out on top,” she said. “I like to buy railroad stocks or mortgage bonds. When I see a good thing going cheap because nobody wants it, I buy a lot of it and tuck it away.” Her estimated worth at the time of her death at the age of 82 in 1916 was between $100 million to $200 million (equivalent to $2.35 billion to $4.7 billion today), the vast majority of which was earned via her own efforts. In fact, Hetty had to bail out her husband Edward more than once and left him after she had to put up $500,000 of her own money to cover his losses when his bank failed in 1884. She also bailed out the city of New York with a $1.1 million check in 1907 and negotiated her repayment in short-term bonds. A firm believer in pre-nuptials, Hetty not only made Edward sign one prior to their marriage, she also insisted her daughter’s husband sign one and encouraged all women to protect their assets in marriage. So frugal she wore the same single black dress and, reportedly, undergarments until they fell apart, Hetty remains listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the greatest miser. However, she also quietly supported many charities and said… | Read More »

Abigail Adams got the last word

Abigail Adams got the last word. Wife and mother to U.S. presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, Abigail earned her own place in history through her prolific letter writing, her strong stand against slavery and her equally passionate advocation for women’s rights, especially in finance. An astute financier herself, during a time when women were not allowed to own property, Abigail invested what she called “her own pocket money” in government and war bonds. Not only did the bonds pay an excellent rate of return, they also allowed her to keep the money from being considered “tangible property” and, therefore, her husband’s under the law. By some reports, Abigail earned 400% on her investments, which she used to help other women in need, including her own sister. She also managed the household finances for her husband, who was often away from the family farm as he pursued a political career in Philadelphia and abroad. Abigail oversaw a very busy household that included her own six children (two of whom died in infancy), several nieces and nephews and even, for a time, Thomas Jefferson’s daughter Maria “Polly” Jefferson. The Adams had a well-documented happy marriage, despite the geography that often separated them. Their letters to each other provide a clear view of a husband who relied heavily on his wife’s sound counsel. Abigail herself was reluctant to release those letters to the public during her lifetime as the political landscape was particularly fractious at the time, but her grandson later released all 1,200 of them. They don’t just provide valuable insight into the mindset of the influential Adams family, they also offer an almost play-by-play documentation of those revolutionary times. In her last act as an advocate and savvy investor, Abigail, who died of Typhoid at age 73, wrote a will that left the majority of her possessions to her female relatives. You can read a copy of her very… | Read More »