Woman as an Investor
May 1893 — World’s Congress of Representative Women, Columbian Exposition, Chicago World’s Fair, Chicago IL
I would hesitate to come before you with a paper upon the unsentimental, and to many, the uninteresting topic of finance, but for the fact that woman is such an important factor in the financial world. Coming as I do from a field of strife, where ambition to attain sudden wealth often wrecks the present and embitters the future lives of men and women whose investments of money are at best attended with a certain degree of hazard, I feel a certain sense of duty to woman in calling her attention to three important branches of investments, which, as far as she is concerned, come in the following order: Insurance, banking and loan associations. There is not an incident in the history of war of cruelty or justice meted out in obedience of some law, as cruel, as cold-blooded, or as heartless as is shown in the history of finance of today. True, hundreds have been swept out of existence in a single hour on fields of battle; but the suffering was soon past, the life gone out was cheerfully given for a cause sacred to the giver and revered by those who mourned their dead. Death is far preferable, as there can be no anguish nor suffering as great as that endured by the happy, successful man who suddenly finds himself a beggar; a lifetime of work and savings swept before his helpless eyes and hands, leaving him to witness and share the hardships of those dependent upon him, and perchance his failure may not excite the sincere sympathy of those in whose behalf he risked his all. Censure is too often the rule. The world of finance knows no pity for the man who fails; it has smiles only for the successful man without much inquiry as to the modus operandi of his success. Now in this whirlpool of money getting, money losing and money keeping, what of woman?
Read the list of the millionaires of the world and do you not find women as well represented as men? Read the records of any banking institution and who do you find as the principal stock owners? Women! Look over the books of any and every successful Loan and Building Association and who has been the purchasers of stock and builders of homes by this method of Loan? Women! But she is there in name only, as a rule. For many long and weary years she has been clamoring for political rights and political honors, equal suffrage and men’s clothing, the pantaloons in particular, if one is to draw a conclusion from the recent dress reform display held here in Chicago. It is claimed aloud by some men, and whispered by others, that she has been in possession of the article of apparel just mentioned for all time; be that as it may, my only wish is that if the disguise of man’s clothing would open woman’s eyes to her own importance and responsibility in the financial world, I shall not object, but I doubt it. Strange as it may seem coming from a business woman as I am, I do most emphatically assert that woman is the most inconsistent of God’s creation. There are women who by inheritance of stock in the great industries and banks of this age might wield a power far more telling, far more vital than anything politics could give, yet they never think of asserting the rights they already have. I shall not take your time in giving a recapitulation of history as to the wealth and power of our revered maternal ancestors. The pages of ancient and modern history teem with the facts and you may read if you will.
It is my purpose to talk of woman as I find her today, good, honest, earnest and inconsistent! First let us look at the matter of banks and bank stock. Did it ever occur to you that a very large portion of bank stock in the United States is owned by women? Did it ever occur to those women that they have a vote and voice in the direction and management of a work far more important than the election of a Kansas Senator or a Ward politician? True, there are some women who are holding offices in banks. I met the vice-president of a Texas bank and in a conversation upon her duties learned that she always signed papers when brought to her even though she stopped her bread-making or any other household duties, to do so; but as to any knowledge of the securities held, money, markets, etc, she had none further than that her money was in the bank’s business and she was notified regularly of the dividends, and had money to use as she chose. But as to whether the dividends were larger or smaller than any preceding year she could not say. Some day that woman will be notified that her stock is not drawing any dividends, then maybe she will look after her interests and exercise her right to the ballot. Men are willing to grant woman all the rights she may have in the financial world, yet they look upon her as a legal prey if she persists in remaining ignorant in matters pertaining to her property and prosperity. Nowhere in the business world is woman more applauded than in this department of economics, and nowhere is she more swindled and wheedled out of her property than right here. As I before stated there is no sentiment in finance, but there is commendation to the successful, be that person man or woman. In Suffolk County, Va., two-thirds of the bank stock is owned by women, yet there is but one bank officer a woman, as far as can be learned, and many of these women do not know how to draw a check and cannot discover the difference between a dividend and an assessment and would be as pleased over a notice of one as the other until better informed. Who votes the shares of stock owned by women, do you ask? Some man who by proxy votes as best suits his purpose, and attends to her loans and interests as is most profitable to himself.
A rather amusing story is told of one of the wealthy women of St. Louis, whose husband, tired of attending to her dressmakers’ and milliners’ bills, decided to give her an account at a bank, so she might attend to these affairs herself. So he handed her a bank book with the account opened, and a good round sum at her credit, also a check book, and told her to pay her bills by checks; shortly after he was notified that his wife’s account was overdrawn at the bank. He called her attention to the fact and was assured it could not be. She brought him the check book, saying: “See, there are several checks yet I have not used.” Is it any wonder that money left in the hands of such a woman is soon mismanaged by some man who sees her ignorance? Woman suddenly finds herself in possession of money, by reason of death of her husband or father, and unless she is on the alert, it will soon be dissipated by bad management. Life insurance has made woman rich, and lawyers have profited by her ignorance in financial matters. The judge of the probate court in one of the counties of New York gives a most startling statement of his observation on the bench. It is this: Eighty per cent of the money left to widows and children in that county during his term of office was dissipated by mismanagement. Women left with money are looked upon as legitimate prey by a class of men who have over their office door the word “Investments.” Chicago courts of this year disclosed a most appalling state of affairs that women should blush to acknowledge. A firm consisting of four brothers closed their doors one morning, and in the investigation following, this fact was brought out: One of the brothers testified that his duties in the transaction of the firm’s business was to look up widows and women of means, and by a system of flattery and attention gain their confidence and a full statement of finances. He claimed a few lunches, a theater party, a ride or other attentions of like nature usually gave him the information desired, and he soon had the management of the woman’s property, borrowed her money, and the best account he could give was a memoranda stuck in his vest pocket and afterward destroyed. That women should be such weaklings is a matter of both regret and shame to all the world, and that such a case could be recorded against her good sense and judgment is a great blot upon her.
Very few men would say to their wives or daughters: “Here, take care of the bank or store, or factory; I shall take a trip around the world, and may remain indefinitely. You attend to the affairs and take care of the children’s interests.” Yet every day we see women thrown in that position, in addition to the grief attendant upon a sudden bereavement. She must take up a work in which she has had no preparation — and too often no knowledge. She must either see her interests ruined or lay aside her grief and begin where, until now, she was not supposed to have ability or comprehension to warrant even her husband’s confidence. This very fact has made woman what she is today, and it will make her the rule, not the exception, in business relations of the future.
Women soon discover that the mysteries of business are not as impenetrable as she supposed. The time has come. She must occupy chairs in directors’ meetings; must keep informed on the subject of money making, as well as money spending; must know her check book from her bank book; her deposits from overdrafts; dividends from assessments of stock, and be willing and ready to vote and lend her ideas in this branch, as she has elsewhere in the world with such good effect.
Insurance formerly offered to man a contract with two conditions, viz.: First. Payment of a certain sum at a stated time until death. Second. Return to the family a specified sum upon proofs of death being satisfactorily given. It now offers to woman more than that. There are no reforms or changes so marked as in the insurance world of today and that of the past. Women are now considered equally as good risks, are carried by companies for the limit of their indemnity, and by this investment may have many opportunities never offered before. For instance, a woman may insure her life and have the policy payable to herself at a certain time. That is, she need not die to win. This policy is as negotiable as a government bond, and may be used in business transactions as are other securities. At the expiration of a stated time she may have all the money she has invested in this manner returned to her, together with interest on the same for the time, thereby giving her the same advantages of savings banks with greater security than they can afford, or, if she so desires, she may turn the cash value of her policy into an income for life, thereby providing for the old woman a safe and happy old age, without the worries of business details. This last feature of the investment in insurance is a most important one, for with the continuance of life there is for all of us an old woman for whose care and comfort the younger woman is responsible. Charity, no matter how sweet, is yet a bitter dose to the old. None of us can foresee our peculiarities in the future, and we are too well warned by the fate of old women of our acquaintance to neglect our own declining years. A woman owes it as a duty to herself as well as her children to place herself in that position which will make her not a burden upon any. A son-in-law cannot be expected to love and care for the mother-in-law, unless she is a rich one. A daughter should not be expected to add to her own cares that of helpless imbecility of a husband’s relative. We will be as unwilling as the most unwilling of our relatives to take that which is given under such circumstances. Do you know, that by a small saving each year for a period of ten years a woman may place herself beyond the accident of dependence. This is a much happier future to contemplate than the uncertainty of some one’s possible care, whether given grudgingly or not. Insurance for women today provides an estate left, in case of death, a savings bank for her money, and a guaranteed annuity for old age; yet there are women who are sentimental enough to not only deny themselves such a provision, but who will induce husbands to cancel any they may have, and too often live to repent their folly. Let me tell you another story — my stories are all true ones, by the way: A woman of more than ordinary business ability in a western town was approached by a real estate man who knew of her contemplation of investing a sum of money she had received. He suggested the purchase of a three-thousand-dollar piece of property that was then rented at ten per cent of the value, or three hundred dollars a year, he showed her that by a few repairs needed this property would bring her four hundred and fifty dollars a year, or fifteen per cent of her investment. Fifteen per cent on money invested is always a temptation to man and woman both, and our western woman was not an exception. She purchased the property and the agent then set about the repairs and changes required to secure an advance rent. When the new roof was put on, the sides of the house cried out for paint, and when that was done the fence fell down with shame before the new clothes of the house; and so it went. The house was entirely remodeled; time was lost, as the tenants were compelled to move and new ones must be secured. But they were finally secured, and then came the trials of our woman investor in keeping peace between tenants and agent. She resolved herself into a peace committee and lay awake nights thinking out plans to ameliorate the woes of first one and then the other, all the time paying the agent for services rendered in keeping her tenants either moving in the house or out of it. Well, to be brief, she cast up her accounts one day last month, and, during the time, two years, she had made a net profit of one dollar and fifty cents upon her investment. I could give you her name and address that you might verify my statement, but you do not need my case, there are hundreds of your own knowledge that are parallel. Had this woman invested one-tenth of her three thousand dollars in some large and secure insurance company two years ago, the dividends of that company would have been almost forty per cent of her investment, and she need not have added lines of care to her face in the endeavor to keep her money making one dollar and fifty cents in two years, besides providing an income for her future that would not require the services of an agent. A wife has as much need to provide an estate for her children by the means of an investment in some insurance company as has the husband. She ought to have a sum of money to leave her children that they might have the advantages she would have given them had she lived. The husband is more helpless when left alone with the children to rear than a wife; he cannot adapt his hours of bread-winning and home-making as can a woman when left alone to face the world. Too often children are scattered or given into the care of unwilling relatives to be cared or uncared for, as the case may be; home ties are broken, affections alienated, ignorance encouraged, and crime often follows the loss of a mother’s care or the provision she may have made to complete the plans for her children. Every woman in this great and good republic should insure, for has she not the same right to accumulate a competence as has man, and in this branch her rights are equal, her returns as great, and her provisions for self and others just as beneficent as man’s. Real estate may decline in value and at best brings but small returns, a failure to pay one deferred payment loses all, if an hour of need comes it is a burden; but insurance is co-operation. If you die your children never needed money more than when death and sickness hampers their grief-stricken efforts; they may draw from the accumulated resources of thousands of others a fund carefully secured against loss, says one of the wisest business men of the times. Loan associations have enabled poor women to build a home, they have made her pay for it to be sure, and she has struggled through a term of eight to ten years for this end; had death overtaken her all would have been lost unless she carried a policy to cover the mortgage hanging over the home. Without the policy she would have left a debt, an unfinished obligation for those left behind to assume; with a policy the debt is canceled, the home safe, and she has not lived in vain even should she not be able to stand the strain of her duties to those dependent upon her. Did you ever hear of a woman attending the meetings of the directors of a loan association and learning anything of its transactions unless she was to become a borrower? I regret that my business has shown me woman’s indifference in a matter of so much importance as this of money making. Yet to be truthful I must state facts and urge it upon all to look into your bank accounts, your investments, the money markets and the provision for your old age. An old woman cannot have too much money. The more disagreeable she is the more she will need that which makes all paths smooth and services rendered lighter by a recompense greater than love can buy or importune. This great branch of business, larger by far than the banking systems combined, opens its doors to woman, making her not only the beneficiary as formerly, but owner of the shares of stock and shares in the profits of the vast amounts invested for her future needs. Her age and sex cut no figure here; she is from the insurance point of view equal to man in all things.
Source: The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman’s Building, World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U.S.A., 1893, ed. Mary Kavanaugh Oldham (Chicago: Monarch Book Company), 1894. pp. 62-66.