Woman as a Financier
May 1893 — World’s Congress of Representative Women, Chicago World’s Fair, Chicago IL
By simple illustration and a few well-established facts I hope to show that woman is not only capable of managing money, but that she is even a safer custodian of funds than man. It is, therefore, an exploded theory that women who have property to manage must, like children and imbeciles, be provided with guardians. Understand me, I do not mean to say that she is a more honest or a wiser financier than man, but simply that she is a more careful one. Woman is not naturally speculative while man is. It is said, and I think the court records and lawyers throughout the country corroborate the statement, that a widow left in charge of her own estate will invariable manage it judiciously and, if she does not augment it to any very great extent, she will live within her income and never allow her property to be squandered. On the contrary, when woman’s financial ability is distrusted and a guardian is appointed from the stronger sex, in very many cases he becomes enriched and the widow, sad to relate, finds her earthly possessions “growing small by degrees and beautifully less” each day. It behooves us then, as mothers of the present generation and directors of the educationof the young, to see to it that culture in this particular is not neglected. Girls should be taught early the care of money. They should be encouraged to open a bank account. They should be taught to draw checks and give receipts, balance books, and all else that is necessary to make them intelligent managers of small sums of money. Later on they should know something of the nature of contracts and deeds; of stocks and bonds; of securities and interest; so if they have property of their own to manage there will be no danger of their losing it by mismanagement or ignorance. Walter Besant thinks it a very dangerous experiment for woman to assume any part of man’s work and gives this friendly advice to them: “Take care, ladies, man is a useful creature when wisely trained, but there is no work so difficult or so dirty that the average erring man will not leave to his wife to do if she shows the ability to do it and the conviction that it is her duty.” Our author is right so far as certain branches of man’s work is concerned, but I hold that in matters of finance and domestic economy woman is man’s safest and truest guide.
Someone has pertinently remarked that, “Washington might as well have decreed by legislation how high a brown thrasher should fly, or how deep a trout should plunge, as to try to seek out the height or depth of woman’s duty. The capacity will finally settle the whole question.” As to her capacity to manage finances, she has settled that question for herself so far as she has been tested. In the state of Georgia, where I live, there are several banks with women presidents and directors, and in these perilous times of embarrassment and failure not one of these banks has been seriously threatened. Out West there are women cashiers and, so far as my knowledge goes, not one has ever become a defaulter, nor has by unwise management involved the stockholders. In Georgia, too, not far from my native town, is a little village of several hundred inhabitants under the government of a woman mayor. It is a new place, but there is an air of prosperity and thrift about it that is very remarkable. Even the stronger sex stop to admire and commend the hand that holds and guides the reins of government. It is said that this little town of Demorest is the best conditioned town in our state. Out in Kansas there is still another town that, I am told, is entirely officered by women, and it is affirmed that the finances of that place are more prosperous than those of any other place in the Union. Said Frank Leslie to his wife when he was dying: “Go to my office, sit in my place, and do my work until my debts are paid.” He recognized in her the ability to do this work, and the result proves that his judgment was not mistaken. At the time his business was hopelessly insolvent, his debts being estimated at three hundred thousand dollars. With a brave heart she begged time of her creditors to rescue her husband’s name from the shame of bankruptcy. It was with distrust that they granted her request, but in an incredibly short time every debt was paid and the entire business placed on a firm basis. Today there is a no more flourishing business than that of which Mrs. Leslie is the sole proprietor.
Perhaps the strictest financier today and the richest woman in America is Mrs. Hetty Green, of New York. She is known to all by the little green satchel that she carries on her arm, in which are stored stocks and securities. She is the only woman who has ever dared to venture a deal with Wall Street brokers, and in no investment has she ever been known to lose. It took the skillful financiering of a woman to restore prosperity to a people whose ruin had nearly been effected by the errors of the two preceding kings. Might not the wisdom displayed by the Virgin Queen be helpful in these later times to a people now beset by similar difficulties?
Mrs. Smythe, of North Dakota, is a woman whose farming interests cover many square miles, and she grows annually thousands of bushels of golden grain. She has her overseers and superintendents subject to her orders, but she is the supreme director of all her interests. She invests her money in real estate, and from the yearly rentals she is enabled to carry on her large farming interests without borrowing or going in debt. Are there many gentlemen farmers who can boast as much? These few illustrations called from here and there are cited, not for the purpose of advocating woman’s rights, but simply in proof of her ability as a financier; an ability which is among the God given rights with which she is endowed, and which man in full justice to her is bound to recognize. I am not an advocate of woman’s rights in the opprobrious sense of that expression. I do not care to see–hope never to see the women of America leave the quiet sanctity of their homes and thrust themselves out into the political world. I could not be so untrue to that mother who taught me that modesty was the cloak of protection to be worn by woman. I could not be so untrue to my religion, the religion of my father, which has taught me that the good woman “openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness,” that “she looketh well to the ways of her household and eateth not the bread of idleness.” Nay, I could never advocate any right that would place woman where the blush of shame would never mantle her cheek, or where the chivalry of man would refuse to accord her that honor which is every true woman’s due.
In closing this little paper which I only offer as containing some suggestive thoughts, I know of no more beautiful and encouraging example to women in the financial world than the work that has been accomplished by her at this Exposition now in progress. These walls and all that they contain are grand monuments to her energy, patience and financial skill.
All honor then to the noble daughters of America who have conceived the plan of all this work and have successfully carried it into execution!
Source: The World’s Congress of Representative Women, Vol. II, ed. May Wright Sewall (Chicago: Rand, McNally & Company) 1894, pp. 469-470.