Marianne Babal is a Corporate Historian for Wells Fargo.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In North Carolina, Barbara Lasater Hanes joined the board of Wachovia Bank & Trust and Wachovia Corporation in 1977.
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.
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.