As we close out Women’s History Month, allow me to share a few historic women who have made significant financial contributions to the world.

Katherine Dexter McCormick

Born in 1875 into a prominent family she essentially single-handedly funded the contraceptive pill.  While the invention itself changed the economic trajectory for women (side note, 80% of single-parent families are headed by mothers and 1/3rd of those live in poverty, and of course, within that third, women of color represent as much as a third to double the percentage as white women), there are a few things that I particularly love about Katherine’s story:

  • Through the 1920s she smuggled more than 1,000 diaphragms from Europe to NYC sewing them into high-end garments
  • She funded the lab that developed the pill in her 70s after her husband died and she had full autonomy over her wealth. I love this both for the autonomy piece and this major achievement happened in her 70s.
  • She turned down the strategy to fund many research labs, instead, acted with conviction and wrote a large check after her first meeting with Gregory Pincus at his lab in Boston

You can read more in this short article from PBS.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg

RBG probably doesn’t come to mind as a financial influencer, but did you know that 4 of her 6 cases successfully argued before the supreme court prior to her appointment were for financial equity?

Even more interesting, all 4 of those cases were on behalf of men, arguing that they receive equal treatment as women.  Two of them were to ensure that widowers received the same benefits as widows under social security, one argued the same premise for property tax law in Florida, and the fourth for husbands to have the same military dependent status as wives.

Maggie Lena Walker

The first woman to own a bank in the US, which alone is a feat, as of 2021 only 13 of 5,000 banks operating today are women-owned.

But Maggie Walker wasn’t just the first women-owned bank, she was a black woman born to enslaved parents in 1864.  Her bank, St Luke Penny Savings, was opened in 1903 at a time when there were around 30,000 banks in operation.  It survived the great depression, which cut the number of banks in half to about 15,000 (and inspired the establishment of FDIC insurance).

Maggie successfully operated the bank through her husband’s tragic and accidental death as well as a disability that left her wheelchair-bound until her death in 1934. 

And I’ll close with one more fun fact.

Of the 89 people awarded Nobel Prizes in the field of Economic Science, only two have been women.  While in my training, many of these recognized men are “household” names in portfolio design, theory, and financial management, the work of these two female Nobel Laureate’s is summarized here:

Elinor Clair Awan 2009

It was long unanimously held among economists that natural resources that were collectively used by their users would be over-exploited and destroyed in the long term. Elinor Ostrom disproved this idea by conducting field studies on how people in small, local communities manage shared natural resources, such as pastures, fishing waters, and forests. She showed that when natural resources are jointly used by their users, in time, rules are established for how these are to be cared for and used in a way that is both economically and ecologically sustainable.

And Esther Duflo 2019

One of humanity’s most urgent issues is the reduction of global poverty, in all its forms. Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer have introduced a new approach to obtaining reliable answers about the best ways to fight global poverty. It involves dividing this issue into smaller, more manageable, questions. Since the mid-1990s, they have tested a range of interventions in different areas using field experiments, for example for improving educational outcomes or child health.

If you enjoyed this, pass it along and I’d love to know historic or personal, what woman influenced your quality of life and how?