By Mary Pilon, The History Channel
In the 1880s, women were decades away from earning the right to vote. Few owned property, if they were even permitted to do so. In addition to childcare obligations, many toiled in work that was either underpaid, or not paid at all. Essentially, the gears of progress for women were moving slowly in just about every arena of life. Especially when it came to money.
On Wall Street, Mary Gage found herself frustrated with being shut out of stockbroking on venues like the New York Stock Exchange, the artery of America’s growing place on the international financial stage. So, in 1880, the finance-savvy associate of suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton started her own exchange—just for women—who wanted to use their own money to speculate on railroad stocks.
Previously, women had needed to rely on men to invest their money for them; these men pocketed handsome commissions. Gage wanted to cut out the middleman and not only avoid having to pay high commissions, but make her own decisions about how and where she moved money. Gage, like many women of her era, previously had little say in her own finances.
Throughout the 19th century and into the start of the 20th, when Gage and her colleagues formed at least one exchange, stockbroking—the act of buying and selling stocks for a client—was seen as an unseemly pursuit for either gender. Some religions saw it as a form of gambling and an immoral way to make money compared with manual labor…
Wall Street trading floors have long been seen as bastions of testosterone that rewarded, literally, those with sharp elbows who could throw a punch. But since America’s inception, women like Gage have been essential to the history of finance and stock-trading in the country.
When they couldn’t participate or create their own market, like Gage did, many wielded influence from the sidelines. Abigail Adams had the foresight in her time to see the advantages in trading bonds over farmland and persuaded her husband, John, to do so, according to letters between the two displayed at the Museum of American Finance in New York...