Muriel Siebert Makes the Exchange Co-ed

by Mary Goljenboom

Although there is no rule against them, the floor of the Exchange has been better protected against women members than that of Congress.

That’s Eunice Fuller Barnard’s opinion of opportunities for women at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) from her 1929 article “Ladies of the Ticker.” She goes on to describe what seems to be an impossible barrier to women members.

A woman . . . could not just buy a seat. As in any club, she would have to be admitted by vote of the membership committee. And it seems doubtful whether either she or they yet desire her presence . . . .

That barrier worked for almost forty more years. During that time at least one woman was said to have tried to buy a seat. Her bid was ignored. But in 1967 the barrier was finally broken. Muriel “Mickie” Siebert finally had all the necessary requirements to purchase an NYSE seat: desire, established ability and experience, money, and, most importantly, support of two members.

In her autobiography, Changing the Rules, Siebert told how she made the New York Stock Exchange co-ed.

“It took me six months to summon up the nerve to apply.” During that time she considered the risks and rewards, and compared the levels of potential aggravation to satisfaction. “It’s hard to imagine that any man would have been troubled by similar doubts and concerns, but, realistically, I had to consider what I was risking” she said. She was already a very successful securities analyst with a strong client list of institutional investors to whom she provided both research and suggestions about securities purchases and sales.

Siebert, like all other applicants, put up twenty per cent of the seat’s purchase price as a deposit and had arranged financing (using stocks she owned as collateral) for the remainder; found two NYSE members to sponsor her (a difficult task); underwent a background check by a detective agency; and was interviewed by the admissions committee. Parts of Siebert’s application process were not standard. She was required to present a letter from her bank stating that it was prepared to loan Siebert the necessary funds to complete the purchase of the seat. One of her sponsors was asked what he knew about Siebert’s private life. During the admissions committee interview, Siebert reported seeing the committee’s relief upon learning that she would not be working on the NYSE floor.

It was evident that the NYSE did not wish to admit Siebert to the “club,” and it did what it could to dissuade her from completing the process. But the exchange could not ignore her application (as it did with at least one earlier female candidate) and, because of her strong qualifications, it could not afford to vote her down. Why? Because members knew that Siebert would sue and the law was on her side. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed sex-based discrimination, had taken effect in 1964.

Whether or not the majority of members of the New York Stock Exchange desired the presence of a female colleague, they got one on December 28, 1967.

Siebert died in August 2013. In her life, she changed rules and made it easier for women to rise in their chosen professions.

 

Sources
Changing the Rules by Muriel Siebert and Aimee Lee Ball

“Ladies of the Ticker” by Eunice Fuller Barnard. The North American Review, Vol. 227, No. 4 (Apr. 1929), pp. 405-410, Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25110719

 

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