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 »