Proposal preview

Worthy women. Banking and feminine finances in the twentieth century

In global surveys the ownership of a bank account is an important indicator of gender equality (e.g. Global Gender Gap report by World Economic Forum). While the gender gap is still significant in large parts of the world in high-income OECD economies basically all adults, women as well as men hold accounts at financial institutions. This equal access has however a shorter history than one might think. Still, in the 1960s married women in many Western countries could not open bank accounts or sign for a credit card without their husband’s formal permission. Economic historians have studied women’s economic agency and emphasised their role in home accounting and consumption. There are also studies of women as capital owners, investors and entrepreneurs. Gendered aspects of retail banking are more seldom studied.

This session is about female financial agency and the role of gender in financial services industries in four different national settings. The participants of the panel study gendered aspects of banking in the twentieth century – by focusing on female bank employees as well as on female consumers of financial services. How did the practices and institutional frames of female financial agency shift when women increasingly entered into the labour market and when they achieved full legal economic emancipation? We are interested in gendered marketing practices and gendered financial products such as women’s bank accounts and women’s credit cards. We also ask how the career opportunities of the banks’ female workforce were related to banks’ ambition to recruit female customers.

Organizer(s)

  • Sabine Effosse Paris Nanterre University sabine.effosse@parisnanterre.fr France
  • Orsi Husz Uppsala University orsi.husz@ekhist.uu.se Sweden

Session members

  • Sabine Effosse, Paris Nanterre University, France
  • Orsi Husz, Uppsala University, Sweden
  • Maria Rosaria de Rosa, Università degli Studi di Napoli "L'Orientale", Italy
  • Laure Quennouëlle-Corre , C.N.R.S.-C.R.H, Paris
  • Mark J Crowley, Wuhan University, China

Discussant(s)

  • Youssef Cassis European University Institute, Italy

Papers

Panel abstract

Still, in the 1960s married women in France or Italy could not open bank accounts without their husbands’ formal permission. This session is about female financial agency and the role of gender in financial services industries in four different national settings. The participants of the panel study gendered aspects of banking in the twentieth century – by focusing on female bank employees as well as on female consumers of financial services. How did the practices and institutional frames of female financial agency shift when women increasingly entered into the labour market and when they achieved full legal economic emancipation? We are interested in gendered marketing practices and gendered financial products such as women’s bank accounts and women’s credit cards. We also ask how the career opportunities of the banks’ female workforce were related to banks’ ambition to recruit female customers.

1st half

Counting rights. Women's legal status and the access to bank credit in Italy (1900 - 1960)

Maria Rosaria de Rosa

The legal status of women, especially their property rights connected with dowry and husband's authority, influenced economic relationships within families and businesses until 1975 when the reformation of family right in Italy established the economic equality of spouses. The different juridical configuration between men and women involved in business have affected their financial relationships, as much as the access of women to bank credit. The paper will analyse how the transformations in the legal status of women during the twentieth century affected their access to banks and credit. What kind of clients were women for a bank? I will focus on the legal protections assured to dowry, in order to understand how, and if, this aspect conditioned the opportunity to benefit of a loan. I will also analyse another important aspect: women as owners of small banks involved with credit, a useful business opportunity to invest the dowry's money.

The legal status of women, especially their property rights connected with dowry and husband's authority, influenced economic relationships within families and businesses until 1975 when the reformation of family right in Italy established the economic equality of spouses. The different juridical configuration between men and women involved in business have affected their financial relationships, as much as the access of women to bank credit. The paper will analyse how the transformations in the legal status of women during the twentieth century affected their access to banks and credit. What kind of clients were women for a bank? I will focus on the legal protections assured to dowry, in order to understand how, and if, this aspect conditioned the opportunity to benefit of a loan. I will also analyse another important aspect: women as owners of small banks involved with credit, a useful business opportunity to invest the dowry's money.

Banks and Women in the 1960s-1970s France. How did the 'Bastille Day Law' make women a new target for banking development?

Sabine Effosse

This paper aims to examine how the 13th July 1965’s law, passed one day before the Bastille Day, has impacted the strategy of banks in developing their clients. By revising the matrimonial regime, a legacy of the Napoleon Civil Code, this law brought indeed major changes. Embedded in a context of social and economic modernization, it enabled married woman to work and open a bank account without her husband’s permission. Implemented in 1966, the law opened new opportunities for gaining new market shares in the individual customers market and was very challenging for banks in the way to do it. Did they use special marketing strategies ? To what extent opening a bank account was seen as a sign of empowerment for women ? Based on regulators and banks archives, this paper highlights, a major turning point in the women access to banks in France.

This paper aims to examine how the 13th July 1965’s law, passed one day before the Bastille Day, has impacted the strategy of banks in developing their clients. By revising the matrimonial regime, a legacy of the Napoleon Civil Code, this law brought indeed major changes. Embedded in a context of social and economic modernization, it enabled married woman to work and open a bank account without her husband’s permission. Implemented in 1966, the law opened new opportunities for gaining new market shares in the individual customers market and was very challenging for banks in the way to do it. Did they use special marketing strategies ? To what extent opening a bank account was seen as a sign of empowerment for women ? Based on regulators and banks archives, this paper highlights, a major turning point in the women access to banks in France.

Banking on gender equality. Women as financial subjects in the promotion of financial services in Sweden, 1950s to 1970s

Orsi Husz

My paper explores Swedish bank propaganda targeting women from the1950s to the 1970s. During this period a social-democratic welfare regime emerged, promoting gender equality and egalitarian and individual –not family based– social benefits. (In contrast to many other countries Swedish marital law granted equal economic rights to spouses already in 1921.) During the same period retail banking and new financial services developed. This paper asks how the female financial subject of the welfare state was created in the marketing practices of commercial providers of financial services. In what aspects were the financial products (bank accounts, credit cards etc.) and the banks’ promotional campaigns gendered? How did banks address politically and economically emancipated women and how were women as financial subjects portrayed in bank propaganda? In what ways did bank advertising reflect the changes in society? Did banks address their customers as individuals or rather as members of households?

My paper explores Swedish bank propaganda targeting women from the1950s to the 1970s. During this period a social-democratic welfare regime emerged, promoting gender equality and egalitarian and individual –not family based– social benefits. (In contrast to many other countries Swedish marital law granted equal economic rights to spouses already in 1921.) During the same period retail banking and new financial services developed. This paper asks how the female financial subject of the welfare state was created in the marketing practices of commercial providers of financial services. In what aspects were the financial products (bank accounts, credit cards etc.) and the banks’ promotional campaigns gendered? How did banks address politically and economically emancipated women and how were women as financial subjects portrayed in bank propaganda? In what ways did bank advertising reflect the changes in society? Did banks address their customers as individuals or rather as members of households?

2nd half

‘Jobs for the Girls Revisited’ The rise of automation and clerical labour in the British Financial Services Industry 1900-1950

Mark J. Crowley, Bernardo Batiz-Lazo

This paper explores the historical development of the rise of women workers in the British financial services industry from 1900 to 1950. Until 1914, most clerical work absorbing women was that conducted for the state (Wardley, 2006). Most women workers employed by the state were within the General Post Office (GPO) from the late 1860s, and the subsidiary Post Office Savings Bank (POSB) from 1870 onwards (Zimmeck, 1986; Wardley, 2006, Black, 2006). Before 1914 very few women found employment or careers in the British financial services industry other than in the POSB. However, at the beginning of the twentieth century, several independent girls’ schools had introduced secretarial courses into their curriculum. Equally, many secretarial colleges were opened in major cities in Britain before 1914. This suggests that there was a growing need for clerical labour in the major commercial centres of Britain. Most of this demand was met through the...

This paper explores the historical development of the rise of women workers in the British financial services industry from 1900 to 1950. Until 1914, most clerical work absorbing women was that conducted for the state (Wardley, 2006). Most women workers employed by the state were within the General Post Office (GPO) from the late 1860s, and the subsidiary Post Office Savings Bank (POSB) from 1870 onwards (Zimmeck, 1986; Wardley, 2006, Black, 2006). Before 1914 very few women found employment or careers in the British financial services industry other than in the POSB. However, at the beginning of the twentieth century, several independent girls’ schools had introduced secretarial courses into their curriculum. Equally, many secretarial colleges were opened in major cities in Britain before 1914. This suggests that there was a growing need for clerical labour in the major commercial centres of Britain. Most of this demand was met through the employment of women. This paper will explore whether the labour market for clerical workers in the British banking industry was being feminised through the restructuring of the job type, due to the process of automation.

Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling.Women’s Work at the Bank Societe Generale

Laure Quennouëlle-Corre

While the number of employees in the French banks and financial institutions has remained very large since the 1960s, women have gradually accessed the labour market in the banking system. Simultaneously, women’s financial autonomy and their legal economic emancipation were expanding significantly: this topic starts to attract attention from historians. Based on statistics, interviews and archives, this paper presents the first results of a work dedicated to the evolution of women’s careers at the Société Générale, one of the three biggest commercial banks in France. It will attempt to answer a series of questions: How and when did women gain access to management or leadership functions? What was the role of training in the female ascent? How and when did the bank help women to progress in their careers? Were some departments or functions “gendered”? Similarly, how related was their task allocation to the bank’s ambition to recruit female customers?

While the number of employees in the French banks and financial institutions has remained very large since the 1960s, women have gradually accessed the labour market in the banking system. Simultaneously, women’s financial autonomy and their legal economic emancipation were expanding significantly: this topic starts to attract attention from historians. Based on statistics, interviews and archives, this paper presents the first results of a work dedicated to the evolution of women’s careers at the Société Générale, one of the three biggest commercial banks in France. It will attempt to answer a series of questions: How and when did women gain access to management or leadership functions? What was the role of training in the female ascent? How and when did the bank help women to progress in their careers? Were some departments or functions “gendered”? Similarly, how related was their task allocation to the bank’s ambition to recruit female customers?