“My immediate supervisor was a dear soul by the name of Libbey Sussan. She was an attorney by training but was not practicing as a lawyer, and she was very, very helpful. She was the chief and I was her assistant. A two-person unit, I guess it was called. We responded to complaints. We sent summaries to the enforcement staff. We produced a monthly summary that was circulated among the staff attorneys and others letting them know what the trends were in terms of complaints and inquiries.”
The 1959 Women in the Federal Service, 1939-1959 study noted that over four-fifths of women in federal service were employed in full-time white-collar positions. At the SEC, women comprised 32% of the staff. However, the study noted that, while men had received increases in job grades from grade 7 to grade 9 over the two decades, the average job grade for women remained at grade 4.10
“Miss Zion became my secretary on October 3, 1955. She had no previous experience with the SEC. Nevertheless, after a short orientation period, Miss Zion undertook a job which a number of previous secretaries has been unable to accomplish, and that was a reorganization of my files which in important areas constitute the only files in the Division and in fact the Commission with respect to these matters.”
The role of an efficient and effective secretary remained the most common job for a woman working at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Mollie Zion began her SEC service as assistant to Manuel Cohen, then Chief Counsel of the Division of Corporation Finance. Zion worked with Cohen as he rose through the ranks to the SEC Commission and appointment as Chairman. She regulated access to Cohen, assembled his materials, and – when he suffered a major heart attack soon after becoming Chairman – worked in tandem with SEC Commissioner Byron Woodside to maintain the functions of the office. Zion was equally adept at providing counsel to Cohen and providing orientation to incoming SEC administrative staff.
“After a career of investigating and prosecuting securities fraud, Jennie never had complete confidence in any of her personal financial advisors, bankers or stockbrokers and religiously reviewed every transaction and statement for potential errors. Jennie ran a law & order office, and maintained a law & order home, where every piece of paper had its assigned place in a properly labeled folder.”
More women at the SEC were beginning to move beyond secretarial and administrative positions. Jennie Howle Randolph began her service in the SEC Atlanta Regional Office in 1937 as a clerk-stenographer. While continuing her day job, she earned a law degree and an appointment as an SEC attorney. She was later named SEC Southeast Regional Counsel, and retired from the SEC in 1976. Evelyn Taylor, a contemporary of Randolph, began work at the SEC Atlanta Regional Office as a junior stenographer and advanced to staff accountant, retiring in 1974.11
“My section’s chief name was George Scully. And although we turned out to be great friends, George was less than enthusiastic about having a female financial analyst when I first came. There weren’t too many of us.”
More professional women joined the ranks of the SEC, including Libbey Sussan, who may have been the first female lawyer in the SEC’s home office, and Mary “Mickey” Beach, who began her SEC service in 1960 and retired in 1993 as Senior Associate Director in the Division of Corporation Finance. Irene Duffy was branch chief in the SEC’s New York Regional Office and co-authored an instructional manual for staff.12
The NASD mirrored the ranks of the securities industry: it too was dominated by men. Key functions open to women included processing information for registered representatives, and maintaining records of inspections and complaints. “The NASD At Work” section in its 1961 Annual Report includes photos of Ruth Silvey, Bessie Turner and Barbara Campbell filing records, and of Helen Bailey scoring answer sheets of the qualifying examination for registered representative on an IBM 805 electronic scoring machine. Use of new technology was a breakthrough in business operations, yet characterized as “female occupations”.13
In 1961, President Kennedy established the Commission on the Status of Women to ensure that federal career service and promotion would be based solely upon merit without regard to sex. Federal agencies were directed to implement policies reflecting this policy pursuant to the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which made it illegal to pay disparate wages to men and women if they performed equal work in the same workplace.14 The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it an unlawful employment practice for any employer to fail or refuse to hire or discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against an individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of an individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.15 The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was established in 1965, and federal agencies – including the SEC - created their own EEO offices. SEC Chairman Manuel Cohen appointed the first Employee Equal Opportunity Officer reporting directly to the Chairman’s Office.
The door to women in securities regulation was opening wider, but was harder to crack in professional positions in Wall Street companies or in the major law and accounting and auditing firms representing such companies. When Muriel Siebert purchased a seat on the New York Stock Exchange in 1967, she became the first women to own and run one of its member brokerage firms. Her 2013 obituary recalled that “the exchange initially refused to admit her if a bank did not lend her the bulk of the $445,000 required for a seat, and that the bank initially would not extend the loan without guarantee of her admittance. But she charged her way in.”16
Most women interested in working in the financial markets or its regulation did not view themselves primarily as feminists – they had similar career aspirations as their male counterparts as professional women pursuing the field of law, finance or accounting.17 But, in 1966, the National Organization for Women held its first national conference in Washington, D.C., stating, “The purpose of NOW is to take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.” 18 The barriers of gender-defined roles were beginning to be broken in profound and lasting ways.
(11) March 2012 SEC Atlanta Regional Office Women’s Committee Newsletter
(13) 1961 NASD Annual Report; Melissa S. Fisher, Wall Street Women (Durham: Duke University Press 2012).
(14) 19 U.S.C. 206 (1963).
(15) 41 U.S.C. §2000e-2 (1964).
(16) Emily Langer, “Muriel Siebert: First woman to join NYSE fought sexism on Wall Street,” The Washington Post, August 28, 2013.
(17) Fisher, Wall Street Women.
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