Women with money? Women in control of their own finances? What’s going on here? Image credit: Ian Brabner, Rare Americana

Were there Women Bankers in America’s 1920s?

In 1920s America One woman’s career as a banking executive is bucking the bucks. How? Is she banking with the big boys? Let’s forget about the Money Men in their suits, and the bank teller visors, for just a moment.

In the below original b&w photograph it is a sunny day in California. Twentieth Century America is just underway. Women are beginning to emerge from being seen as exclusively belonging to the domestic sphere to having roles in public spaces and the corporate world. Like banks, for instance.

Two women stand on a rooftop overlooking the city.

“Would you like to bank with me?”

“Yes, please. I would.”

On the right let’s meet our woman banker, Grace Stoermer of California. She has access to capital. Grace also has access to women clients, entrepreneurs who need capital to invest in businesses and real estate or women who have their own capital to invest.

These are not just two well-dressed women out on a rooftop stroll. These women are talking business. One is older, guiding. The other woman is younger. With her tilting head and smile the image would suggest she likes what she’s being told by her companion.

The 1923–1952 Archive of Grace S. Stoermer. Pioneer of Women’s Banking at the Bank of America. Image credit: Ian Brabner, Rare Americana

Bank of Italy, Bank of America

Grace S. Stoermer’s career was defined as a leader in California government, as Director of the Women’s Banking Department and later Assistant Vice-President at Bank of America, as an officer in women’s professional groups such as the (National) Association of Bank Women, and as active participant in women’s clubs.

Before joining the Bank of Italy N. T. & S. A., later Bank of America, Grace Stoermer honed her leadership skills in politics. She first worked in the Los Angeles County Recorder’s office and, in 1919–1921, served as the first woman secretary of the California Legislature, indeed she was the first woman secretary of any American state legislature.

Staying Grace

In 1923, Stoermer had an idea. She organized the Women’s Banking Department at the Bank of Italy’s Los Angeles offices.

Stoermer then served as president of the (National) Association of Bank Women from 1930 to 1932. For the 1932 Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles, Stoermer was appointed hostess for the State of California. In 1934, during the Great Depression — in addition to her banking duties– Stoermer served as a member of the Citizens Relief Committee of Los Angeles County.

Stoermer also served as Vice-Chairman, Personnel Committee, of the Los Angeles County Citizens Relief Administration. During WWII, Stoermer served as a “Minute Man,” the title given to those who helped sell U. S. Treasury bonds to fund the war. In 1952, after her retirement, Stoermer was tendered a tribute dinner by the Los Angeles Chapter of the Daughters of the Golden West.

A Man’s World (Not)

Up there on the rooftop the two women see the city below and opportunities to buy and invest, but they also see a distant horizon. Someday, the world they survey won’t just be a man’s world.

Of course women can be bankers. The capitalist free market demands it. It is just not something we would think to associate — even now in the 21st century — with the 1920s and 1930s.

There’s more than meets the eye in these photographs. You can bank on it.


First published via RareAmericana.com

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© 2015 Ian Brabner, Rare Americana. All Rights Reserved.

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