Muriel Siebert wouldn’t sit in the back of Wall Street’s all-male bus. Instead, flouting tradition and breaking all the rules, she bought a seat in the front row.
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In 1967, using her own capital and a sizable bank loan, Siebert raised $445,000 to purchase her own seat on the New York Stock Exchange, the first woman to do so. It was nearly a full decade before another woman accomplished the feat.
Siebert died in New York on Saturday at the age of 84, a legendary figure on Wall Street, and moreover, a true American pioneer in furthering women’s rights in the workplace, especially in the mostly male-dominated field of high-finance.
“Muriel supported women across this great land – she spoke of opportunities and she continued to create them for others. It’s a tremendously sad loss for me, for women, and for the financial industry,” said Jennifer Openshaw, founder of Women’s Financial Network, a platform for providing women with investment information and resources.
Siebert was the real deal. For much of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, while she was still essentially the only woman in a position to do so, she could match the deal-making prowess of any cigar-chomping Wall Street CEO and hold her own in salty conversation with the rowdy traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
She famously fought to have a women’s bathroom installed deep in the recesses of the clubby NYSE.
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“The NYSE Euronext community is saddened at the passing of Muriel Siebert, who was a true pioneer in financial services and made history as the first woman to become a member of the New York Stock Exchange. We extend our deepest condolences to Muriel’s loved ones, friends and colleagues,” NYSE said in a statement released Monday.
In a recent interview, she said she arrived in New York in 1954 with a “used car and $500,” determined to forge a career in the testosterone-fueled world of Wall Street. She was tremendously successful, earning $250,000 a year as an analyst in the mid-1960s, a considerable amount of money for that time.
Creating Something 'No One Had Done Before'
But it wasn’t as much money as her male colleagues who were doing the same work as her, and that bothered her. She said she asked an older, male colleague if there was a Wall Street firm where she might make the same amount of money as her male peers and was told, “Don’t be ridiculous. You won’t. Buy a seat (on the NYSE), work for yourself.”
So she did – achieving her goal with a great deal of pride. “I was creating something no one had ever done before,” she recalled many years later.
Unafraid to shake-up the long-staid Wall Street landscape, in 1975 she turned her investment business, Muriel Siebert & Co., into a discount brokerage firm, becoming one of the first investment firms to lower commissions and open Wall Street to Main Street.
Naturally, Wall Street wasn’t pleased with the idea of lower commissions, but the idea caught on anyway and discount brokerages are widely credited with helping to fuel the bull markets of the 1980s and 90s.
New York Governor Hugh Carey recognized Siebert’s unique talents and in 1977 tapped her to become the state’s first woman superintendent of banking, a powerful position in Wall Street’s backyard.
Elective politics was perhaps the one area where Siebert failed to find success, losing a bid for the Republication nomination for U.S. Senate in New York in 1982.
But Siebert never turned her back on public service, often testifying before governmental bodies on various aspects of discrimination and donating both her time and money to causes and organizations that promote equality in the workplace.
“Muriel kept going when most would’ve stopped. She broke down walls. She had more stamina than any 20-year-old. And better than anyone, she understood Wall Street – from every element that made it run to the powers that oversaw the enterprise,” said Openshaw.
Her leadership will be missed, but her legacy won’t soon be forgotten.