June 9, 2009 / 9:20 PM / 10 years ago

NY show heralds talent, deeds of Wall Street women

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A new exhibit of “Women on Wall Street” takes a look back at their feats and talents — from making fortunes to shirking taxes and wielding special powers for picking stocks.

The show at the Museum of American Finance, opening this week for six months, traces women on Wall Street as a reflection of women’s paths in the wider world, said Leena Akhtar, the show’s curator.

“The story of women in finance is the cultural story of women in America,” she said. “Women were completely outside the public realm and had no financial self-determination. Now you can have a family and a career and you can do well at it.”

Five pioneering women are profiled, beginning with Abigail Adams, the nation’s second first lady who invested family finances in U.S. government bonds that paid better returns than the farmland purchases preferred by her husband, John Adams.

The others are:

* Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to own a Wall Street brokerage, who offered her clairvoyant powers to help such prominent mid-19th century figures as Cornelius Vanderbilt choose stocks.

* Hetty Green, a famed miser who fought to control her family inheritance and moved from state to state in the late 1800s to avoid taxes. She once faced legal action for not buying a license for her pet dog.

* Isabel Benham, who began her financial career in 1931 and became the first woman partner of a Wall Street bond house. For many years, she signed letters “I. Hamilton Benham” to hide the fact that she was female.

* Muriel Siebert, the first woman to buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. She joked that the badge for her seat, which cost $445,000 in 1967, is the most expensive piece of jewelry she owns.

Five women prominent on Wall Street today appear on video in the exhibit to discuss women and the Wall Street culture. One of them, Abby Joseph Cohen of Goldman Sachs & Co, describes being turned away at the door of a Wall Street reception, where she was the guest speaker, because she was a woman.

In the past 20 years, Cohen said, “as more and more women became working mothers, their sons got the message.”

Sallie Krawcheck, former head of Citi Global Wealth Management, said: “There has been a recognition over time that it’s not a diversity of gender or color that’s needed but really a diversity of thought ... in order for these companies to be competitive right now and in the future.”

Also featured are Nancy Peretsman, managing director of Allen & Co, Rosemary McFadden, first woman to head the New York Mercantile Exchange, and Ann Kaplan, head of Circle Financial Group.

Editing by Michelle Nichols and Bill Trott

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