The History of Women, Work and Money – And A Look Forward

Women, work and money. We take for granted nowadays that a woman can manage her own finances. She can get a loan in her own name, a credit card, work a full time job, and invest however she wishes. She can work full time outside the house, or still decide to stay home/work part time. She can even be the breadwinner and sole income earner with a stay at home dad husband, like me. We’re frustrated with all the things still present in today’s world that hold us back – the gender pay gap, the fact that we’re still not represented equally in executive boardrooms, all the harassment we still must endure, and so on.

You know, though, it wasn’t so long ago that our fore-mothers were fighting for these rights we take for granted today. At times it can be tempting to focus solely on how far we have left to go – so I wanted to kick off this week with a reflection of just how far we’ve come. At the end, I have some inspiring words for you, and a call to help others – whether you’re a man or a woman.

I hope today you’ll also learn something interesting you didn’t know before, and can go share a new tidbit with friends and co-workers. And that I’ll inspire you – whatever your gender – to step up and do something differently to help change the world.

Women, Work And Our Money – A Look Through The Ages

Here’s a look at major milestones for women in their money – and work, which is closely related – history.

1862: The first loan to a woman in the US occurred  in California, by the San Francisco Savings Union

1880: A woman named Mary Gage opened a stock exchange for women who want to use their own money to speculate on railroad stocks. Check out the 1889 Wall Street Journal article about how “Female Speculators Rattle Wall Street Traditions“.

1908: Oregon limits the workday for women to 10 hours – with the implication that women are too fragile to work much longer than that, or they are needed at home. This occurred in the case Muller Vs. Oregon.

1963: The US passes the first legislation requiring equal pay for equal work. So it was only a little over 50 years ago that it was perfectly legal to pay people differently depending on gender.

1968: Did you know that it used to be perfectly acceptable to advertise jobs as only for women, or only for men? It was common practice only fifty years ago. Protests in 1967 against the New York times led to them finally ending the practice.

1969: Colgate-Palmolive lays women off rather then letting them do physical labor. This is of course “to protect our ladies” and their delicate sensibilities (uggghhhhhh). In Bowe v Colgate-Palmolive, an appeals court rules physical labor cannot be limited to men.

1970: Schultz v Wheaton Glass came about after a company had a “brilliant” (read – not brilliant) way to get around that pesky equal pay act. Simply have different job title for the same work! Men were “selector-packer-stackers,” while women were the much different “selector-packers.” Fortunately a federal appeals court saw right through that one..

1972: Katharine Graham becomes the first woman to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company – the Washington Post.

1974: This year saw the passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which made it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their gender, race, religion and national origin.

1978: Before the passing of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, it was perfectly legal to fire a woman for being pregnant.

1981: Before this time, a husband could keep his spouse in the financial dark. Thanks to Kirchberg v Feenstra, where a man was told he doesn’t have the right to unilaterally take out a second mortgage on property held jointly with his wife. Do you know why he had to be told this? Because before this time, it was actually the law in Louisiana that you could do this.

1988: Believe it or not, this was when the “Women’s Business Ownership Act” put an end to state laws requiring male co-signers. That’s only thirty years ago!

2009: President Barack Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration act, which allows people to sue companies for pay discrimination even if more than six months have passed.

Here’s all those facts in a cool picture you can share.

Women and money infographic

CMO Musings

In doing the research for this article, I was shocked by how recent some of the developments I take for granted really are. In the 60’s, my mother was a child. My grandmother was a young adult woman – a stay at home mom who never went to college, despite the fact that she was more than capable. Why? That’s what women did. And until me, all the married women in my family also had their money managed by their spouse.

One of the main reasons I started this site was to help other money smart women, as well as those who want to become better with their money, to manage things themselves. Women being able to do things as simple as run a business, get a loan or credit card, be the breadwinner, work outside the home, and manage their own money are recent developments when you look at it from a historical perspective.

Many women out there might be like me – with few or no other money-smart or strong career female role models in their own lives. It can be a difficult path to walk when you feel like you’re alone. I’m here to let you know that we’re not alone. There are women who have walked this path before you, even if you don’t know who they are. There are many women walking alongside you now. And there are women behind you as well. If we can all work towards helping others to learn and achieve, we’ll be able to change the world in ways we can’t imagine now.

What if you’re not a woman? That’s great, actually. You can help ensure that your mothers, sisters, daughters, granddaughters, and all other women have the opportunity to live up to their potential. How can you do this? By living your life in a way that you encourage women to succeed, pointing out where others may be holding women back, and working hard to recognize any unconscious biases you or others may hold.

Looking at how far we have to go can, at times, be saddening. “Are we making any progress at all?” you may wonder. Hopefully this look back in time will show you that yes, we have indeed made tremendous progress. And we are the ones that will be making that progress for our – and others – children. One day, when we are all old or gone, the coming generation will be in disbelief with what we had to deal with.

So lets all work together for the success of our, and future, generations. If we do, we can change the world.

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26 thoughts on “The History of Women, Work and Money – And A Look Forward”

  1. Cool article Liz, it’s scary how how recent it is that women have actually been considered people, rather than chatel of their fathers husbands. I absolutely believe we should celebrate how far we have come, while acknowledging it is not yet truly equal in reality.

    1. It’s true, I was surprised how recent some of these events were. There’s definitely more work to do, but we’ve come a long way

  2. Great article, Liz! The Women’s Business Ownership Act one was really freaky. It was so recent! It can be hard to celebrate all these wins sometimes, when it still feels like we have so far to go, but the pace of improvements over the last 80 years compared to what women faced for hundreds of years really has been astounding.

    1. And I’m sure our current generations of women will continue the fight, so our kids will be unable to believe some of the things we had to deal with 😃

  3. I kind of want to shout “Amen!” right now…

    Like Ms. Zi You mentioned, it is crazy how recent some of these changes are and what kind of obstacles were in front of women a generation or two ago. Here’s to continuing to work for greater equality and understanding across the board.

  4. This is an issue close to my heart! In the UK we’ve just celebrated the centenary of (some) women getting the right to vote and yet only 6% of FTSE 100 company CEOs are women. The figure is similar in Fortune 500 companies. What would the suffragettes think!

  5. I think it sometimes seems like we haven’t come far, but I feel that there is much more momentum now too! It will be amazing to look back in 20 years to see what could be added to your chart. Let’s all do what we can to keep the rate of change increasing!

  6. Mrs Smelling Freedom

    This post really struck a chord! When I set up my business in 1998 I applied for an overdraft. My bank manager rejected my application because “ you will get married, have children and shut down the business”. I was mortified. I only managed to get an overdraft 2 years later, when I got married and my husband signed as guarantor for the OD.
    I can still feel the humiliation to this day.
    Yes, we are in a better position than our mothers and grandmothers, but we have a long way to go.

  7. The 1988 law is really shocking to me, because I had already been born by that point. I can’t even imaging having to deal with any of these sorts of situations. We have a long way to go still, but we sure have made some major strides in the last 100-150 years.

  8. Coming back to review comments this evening….and it’s interesting that load of lovely ladies have commented…but no males? We need to get some male allies on the case. (Especially since men still hold the majority of power positions)

  9. “Look around look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now!”

    There are a lot of terrible things happening to women’s rights right here, right now, that makes me a thousandfold more grateful for the financial rights that we’ve gained to date. As Angela pointed out, some of these more recent laws, younger than PiC or me, are breathtaking. We can’t lose these rights, and more. We’ve got to fight for all of us.

    1. True! I’m glad to be alive now though, and not back when all these laws were in place. I’m sure in 10, 20, or 40 more years our kids will look back and admire how much farther we’ve come from where we are today.

  10. I take so much of this for granted because for the most part these rights were around by the time I was born. But it’s staggering how recent some of these are, which would’ve affected my mother and all the generations before her.

    The good news is I hope things will be even better for the next generation 🙂

  11. Loved this post! My grandmother only finished 8th grade and never had a driver’s license. My mom married was married at 18, didn’t go to college (that was for her brothers only), and she and my dad raised me to be independent. I was the first girl on either side to earn a college degree, then two graduate degrees. Not attending college wasn’t an option for me and I’m incredibly grateful for that.

    1. Awesome! Similar situation for me. My mother has an associates degree, and my grandmother never went to college. I have an MBA.

  12. This is a very interesting post, and has given me an idea for a future post 🙂

    It is both very encouraging the see the progress, yet very sad that in this day and age we even have to be dealing with it in the first place.

    Like you, I have hope that this is rectified in the future and it would be especially nice to see total equality in our lifetimes!

  13. It’s true that we have come a long way. Some times it’s easier to grumble about the inequalities than look back at the progress.

    Personally, in India the social gender inequality still makes it easier for me to be grateful for the progress I have made. There are still urban educated couples who prefer a male child (to the extent of foeticide). Dowry is a common expectation at the time of a wedding from the girls family. A LOT of families still frown on their daughters or even daughters-in-law going out and working!

    So, yeah, I for one am grateful that my parents progressed enough in their mindset to empower me to go to a different city, get an MBA, and live alone in a different city to do my job. Things are changing here but a vast majority of women are still yet to see these signs of progress.

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