How Women Infiltrated the New York Stock Exchange


Though the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) had been in existence for over a century and a half by 1943, the year marked the first time that women were actually allowed to work on its trading floor. Initially, three dozen women were assigned to the 11 Wall Street office tower. Like their female peers in aviation and manufacturing, this first class were filling in for men then fighting overseas in World War II. Eventually, dozens more would join them, working as quote clerks and carrier pages until 1947.

The history of the NYSE itself can be traced back to a tree in lower Manhattan—an American Sycamore, or “Buttonwood,” specifically. Beneath one of these trees, a group of 24 brokers and merchants famously signed what became known as the Buttonwood Agreement on May 17, 1792. It would outline both the establishment of a formal stock exchange and the rules for trading. In the coming decades, the NYSE’s board would offer up 1,100 seats for sale on the exchange at a price of about 0,000 each in 2019 dollars. (The chance to own a seat on the exchange at all ended in 2006, when its private membership dissolved and the company became a for-profit.) It wasn’t until relatively recently, however, that a woman was afforded the opportunity to buy a seat herself.

Acknowledged as a pioneer in the field, Muriel “Mickie” Siebert had her own discount brokerage and would ultimately serve as Governor Hugh Carey’s Superintendent of Banking for the state of New York. When Siebert sought a sponsor for her application to buy a seat on the exchange in 1965, she was turned down nine times before a man finally agreed. Siebert’s admittance hinged upon the payment of a 5,000 fee. Three hundred thousand dollars of it had to be secured by bank loan, the exchange told her—something with which no previous applicant had ever been tasked. After two years and a loan from Chase, Siebert finally made history, becoming known as “The First Lady of Wall Street.” During her time, she was tenacious and demanded equality. She lobbied to have a bathroom installed on the seventh floor of the NYSE near her preferred dining spot, obviating the need for women to take a flight of stairs. Perhaps her threat of installing a port-a-potty instead spooked the exchange. But for the next decade, Siebert would remain the sole woman to own a seat.

By 1984, the NYSE counted three women of color—one Hispanic and two African-American—among its members. In 1988, the exchange welcomed its youngest-ever female member, one of 18 women to join that year. In the 1990s, nine percent of the trading floor was made up of women. Inroads slowly continue to be made. Former NYSE intern Stacey Cunningham was elected president just last year, making her the only female to hold that title in the exchange’s history. Cunningham’s team includes an executive vice chairwoman and a female general counsel and co-head of government relations.

Another first? Lauren Simmons, who gained notoriety last year as both the exchange’s youngest and only full-time female trader at the age of 23. Learning that she was the second African-American woman to work as a NYSE trader in 226 years, Simmons recalls feeling decidedly bittersweet. But she doesn’t want to remain an outlier in the field. “It gets a little weird when I’m walking the streets of New York and people stop me to take pictures. I don’t know if that’ll ever be normal,” she says. Still, “the story, as much as it’s about me, I tell people I’m not an anomaly. I don’t want to be.”


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