• One of the first female bank directors was Louisa B. Stephens. As president of First National Bank of Marion, Iowa, Stephens signed every certificate of stock issued by her bank.
Trailblazers

A legacy of women in leadership

2020-05-22T10:08:17-07:00
Posted on April 21, 2020

Meet the many women who made history on the bank’s board of directors.

In the 1800s and early 1900s, very few women filled bank management or board positions. Those who did often had a family connection to the business.

The 1960s and 1970s brought about civil rights legislation, affirmative action, and a new awareness of equal opportunity for women and minorities in the workplace and boardroom. In the 1970s, women assumed governance roles at Wells Fargo Bank and at a number of banks now part of Wells Fargo. Instead of filling these roles because of their familial connections, they earned them because of their own credentials.

Women continue making history at Wells Fargo today in a variety of roles.

Breaking barriers on the board

One of the first female bank directors was Louisa B. Stephens. She became a director of First National Bank of Marion, Iowa, on May 19, 1877. Stephens joined her husband, Redman, on the bank’s board. Upon his death, she was elected president of First National Bank of Marion on April 9, 1883. Stephens was the second woman to ever head a bank in the U.S. Her appointment made news in national media outlets including The New York Times, which described her as “a woman of thorough business habits and good qualifications, as well as energetic and popular.”

Stephens remained the Marion bank’s president until she resigned in April 1885. First National Bank of Marion became part of Northwestern Bancorp (later Norwest) and is today one of Wells Fargo’s oldest Iowa banking entities.

Black and white illustration of a portrait of a woman. Her signature is under the portrait: Louisa B. Stephens, Marion.

Louisa Stephens, 1800s. Photo Credit: Public Domain.

Stock certificate for The First National Bank of Marion Iowa, signed by Louisa Stephens.

As president of First National Bank of Marion, Stephens signed every certificate of stock issued by her bank. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.

Clara Hellman Heller’s father, Isaias W. Hellman, founded Union Trust Company and ran several other California financial institutions, merging some together with Wells Fargo to create a leading commercial bank on the Pacific Coast. In 1934, Clara became the first woman to serve on Wells Fargo’s bank board. Heller remained on the board until her death in 1959.

Family portrait of a woman holding a young boy standing next to a man in a suit.

Clara Hellman Heller with her son, Ed Heller, and husband, E. S. Heller, almost 30 years before she became the first woman to sit on Wells Fargo’s board in 1934. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.

In 1937, Mary G. Roebling became the first woman to head a major commercial bank in the U.S. when she took over as president of New Jersey’s Trenton Trust Company. When Trenton Trust merged with National State Bank in 1972, Roebling became chair of the board of the combined National State Bank and served in that capacity for a dozen years.

Black and white picture of a woman seated behind a desk, signing documents.

Mary Roebling. Photo Credit: Rutgers University Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives.

Color picture of a coin bank featuring a woman in a blue suit seated next to a building with a Trenton Trust sign. At the bottom is a sign saying the bank was made for the bank’s 75th anniversary.

Roebling introduced marketing innovations to make Trenton Trust’s services more welcoming to customers. She also collected mechanical coin banks and commissioned a bank featuring herself and Trenton Trust’s building for the bank’s 75th anniversary. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.

In 1971, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first female director at the First National Bank of Arizona in its 92-year history. O’Connor later went on to make more history as the first woman to sit as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Color photograph of a woman seated in front of a board table. Behind her are two other men.

Sandra Day O’Connor at the board of directors table of First National Bank of Arizona in 1971. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.

In North Carolina, Barbara Lasater Hanes joined the board of Wachovia Bank & Trust and Wachovia Corporation in 1977.

Black and white portrait of a woman.

Barbara Lasater Hanes. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.

From 1990 to 1996, Rosemarie B. Greco served as a member of the board and president and CEO of CoreStates First Pennsylvania Bank and CoreStates Bank, N.A., and as president of CoreStates Financial Corp.

Color portrait of a woman.

Rosemarie B. Greco. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.

In 1979, scientist and Metropolitan State University President Reatha Clark King joined the board of the Northwestern National Bank of Minneapolis. Her work as a research chemist contributed to the success of NASA’s space missions. King served on the board of Northwestern National Bank, Norwest Corporation, and Wells Fargo until 2005.

Black and white picture of a woman seated behind an office desk covered with papers.

Reatha Clark King. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.

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