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Did you know there was a time when only men could open and operate a bank account? Women's economic rights, their properties, handling money, or even buying a shot of tequila in a pub have come a long way. The history of women and their right to money reads like a fiction story.
Perhaps, the men of yesteryears underestimated women's power over financial management. This discussion will walk you through women's financial and banking journey and its history.
Why Women Couldn't Open A Bank Account?
The issue of contract and the law comes into play when discussing women's rights to open a bank account. Opening an account with a financial institution means entering a legal contract. Therefore, the first step in opening a bank is often consenting to the terms.
However, during the 19th century, women's rights movements took decades to implement grievances toward independence over their finances. Therefore as we go back into history, we need to look at the issues surrounding women and entering into contractual obligations in the U.S.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, married women were considered to be their husbands' legal subordinates. As a result, there were restrictions to engaging in contracts, holding property, or receiving salaries. In addition, since they could not sign legal documents, they couldn't open a bank account.
When Did The Change Happen?
In the 1700s, women gradually gained the legal right to own property. American colonies traditionally adhered to the laws of England, France, or Spain. Also, married men controlled women's property under British law.
By the twentieth century, women in the United States could possess property just like men. The Married Women's Property Act was enacted in 1837 in some states, allowing women to control their finances and properties.
In 1881, France allowed women to open their bank accounts and, after five years, extended this right to married women without seeking their husbands' consent.
America’s Long And Hard Journey
Despite the law's enactment, the implementation was slow, especially in submissive households. Because a woman was expected to be submissive to her husband, she had very little or no authority to act against her husband's wishes.
1919 saw the launch of the First Women's Bank of Tennessee in Clarksville, which catered specifically to the needs of its female clientele. However, whereas the directors and employees were women, the shareholders(owners) were men.
Implementation: Rise of Modern Feminism
While women could open a bank account, they couldn't get a credit card. Before the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed in the US in 1974, women could not apply for loans independently. Instead, they had to bring a man to act as a co-signer or guarantor.
It didn't matter how much money the woman earned or her social status. Whether single, married, divorced, or widowed, women had to be accompanied by men. In this case, it could be a husband, father, brother, or uncle.
This statute was a landmark because women could take up credit cards or apply for loans without requiring their husband's signatures. Some notable women take credit for this freedom.
- Betty Friedan was arguably one of the most celebrated women's rights activists of the 20th century. Besides launching modern feminism, she also fought for women to take up career-oriented opportunities instead of traditional domestic roles of staying at home, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children.
It's no wonder that when the First Women's Bank and Trust Company opened in New York in 1975, she was among the first customers to open an account where she was also a director.
- As a lawyer, Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg participated in several gender discrimination lawsuits in an all-male-dominated court. She was a beacon of hope to many women when laws were strict, and they could not issue credit cards to women or open bank accounts without their husband's permission. Her work changed the course of history and expanded possibilities for millions of women.
What Happens Today?
Currently, there's no discrimination in opening a bank account. Anyone can open an account regardless of gender, race, or income status.
Typically, whereas bank accounts may have different products to suit different categories of customers, a single woman can walk in and open an account just like a man would. If you're married, it's up to you to decide whether to open a joint account with your spouse.
Opening accounts also enabled women to take up loan products such as credit cards and mortgages with some sense of freedom.
Women And Finance
Women have made many strides in managing their finances thanks to increased empowerment at work and equal opportunity.
Even though there's still a lot to be done to create a level playing field, the number of economically empowered women has been on an upward trajectory.
There's no doubt that women contribute to homes, businesses, farms, or companies. For example, a 2021 Fortune Global 500 report shows that 33% of women are in senior management in North America.
Although it's lonely at the top and gender disparities are common, inclusion in leadership positions at the workplace means economic opportunities for women continue to rise across the board.
When women take up leadership roles, they bring great talents, new ideas, and cultural diversity, leading to successful economic solutions.
A study among American students revealed that loan holders are likely to be female and are 9.6% higher than their male counterparts. The findings echo the desire for women to access credit early in life.
Usually, there's a link between earning power and economic prosperity for women. When women earn more, there's likely to be an uptick in their ability to borrow money from financial institutions to finance their short-term and long-term goals.
Nonetheless, there are still some gender disparities in mortgages and home ownership. For example, a 2021 study found that women pay more than men for mortgage facilities in 49 U.S. states.
The reasons for the disparities are unclear; however, it’s notable that women take up mortgages, which means they can spare a portion of their income to pay for home ownership.
Women exhibit savviness in managing their household finances which can easily translate to assertiveness and confidence in economic empowerment.
Women can manage their finances well, so they are more confident in making far-reaching financial decisions. Encouragingly, women with financial knowledge have a higher appetite for growing their home economies.
The gender disparity gap is quickly closing, and women now have equal opportunities as men in opening and maintaining accounts.
However, before the implementation of the Married Women's Property Act, women couldn't sign contracts, and their assets were their husbands’; therefore, they had no financial autonomy.
The year 1974 is perhaps the most celebrated by women in the U.S. because the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, which prohibits discrimination in credit transactions, was passed.
Even though the first credit card was introduced in 1958, the U.S took more than 15 years to allow women to have credit cards. It was only with the enactment of the 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act that women could apply for credit cards.
Thanks to the introduction of credit cards, women could no longer carry wads of cash to make payments. Furthermore, they could use their credit card to leverage their credit history, rating and score.
The Married Women's Act opened a door of opportunity for women to enter into contracts. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed in 1974, allowing women equal rights when accessing credit from banks.
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 allowed equal treatment in the real estate market. Therefore women could enter into homeownership plans by taking out mortgages.
The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed women to claim the right to land ownership in their names and become homesteaders. After the enactment, women could own acres of federal land in their name, which benefited single, divorced and married women.
Owning land provided women with economic opportunities and success. Some stayed in their lands and added more through purchase, while others sold and invested elsewhere.