A Celebration of Women Writers

"The Financial Independence of Women." by Mrs. Ellen Martin Henrotin (1847-1922).
Publication: Eagle, Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893. Chicago, Ill: Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 348-353.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 348] 



In accepting Mrs. Eagle's kind invitation to address this Congress I suggested that a few words on the financial position of women might not be uninteresting.

The entrance of women into the labor markets of the world marks a distinctly new era in her financial status, and the economic condition of woman is still a sad one. It is undeniable that the exhibits at the Columbian Exposition testify to the tremendous advance which she has made during the last half century in the industrial world, but it also testifies to the fact that in this world she occupies a very subordinate position: not numerically, but as a skilled artisan. In the modern world her position is relatively but little better than it was in ancient days, when she was the hewer of wood and bearer of water; and that she does not now hew wood and carry water is due to the fact that mechanical appliances perform for humanity the tasks in which primitive woman was engaged.

Little by little, woman has emerged from the home and its industries into the modern competitive labor market. It is estimated that there are six thousand women in this country who act as postmistresses; treasury department, one thousand four hundred women. New York City has over one hundred thousand women who earn their own living and are supporting families. The average weekly wages of working women in American cities is $5.24, the highest being at San Francisco, $6.91, and the lowest at Atlanta, Ga., $4.05. Over three million women are earning independent incomes in the United States. It is impossible to estimate the number of women who have independent incomes by inheritance.

Miss Grace Dodge says that there are two thousand four hundred and eighteen members of the clubs forming the New York Association. The average earnings are five dollars a week; thus, members of the New York Association earn $654,680 a year. These figures give no idea of women in the insurance business; teachers, most of whom save something and make small investments; librarians, stenographers, whose wages range from six dollars to eighteen dollars per week; but from the meager statement it is easy to judge of the truly enormous sums of money made and invested each year by women.

Why in the nineteenth century, in this land of plenty, flowing with milk and honey, she and her little children should be pushing into this struggle for existence, in which the survival of the fittest seems to be lost sight of, for bread to put in their mouths, is a sociological question which must be left for society, the church and the state to [Page 349]  answer. That she is in the labor market today as a permanent factor is apparent even to the most superficial observer, and the next question is, How to improve her economic and financial condition so that life may be made at least worth the living. This may seem but a poor ambition, but it is, after all, the highest possessed by the great majority: that their life may be fairly comfortable, and passed under such conditions that the next generation may be a little better and a little wiser.

There is no more patent sign of the times than the fact that woman is attracting the attention of the financial world, and that her large property interests are being recognized as an integral part of the so-called "Woman Question." She has always been recognized as a worker, but as a worker along the lines in which her financial rewards did not render her an object of special consideration in the moneyed world. Now, however, all this is changed, the money or the savings which she accumulates are invested in moneyed institutions, as building and loan associations, real estate, and mortgages on real estate. The amount thus invested is in the hundred millions.

Mr. Ethelbert Stewart, of the Department of Labor at Washington, sends me the following report:

"The relative numerical position of men and women as investors in building and loan associations is as one to four. That is to say, twenty-five per cent of the building and loan shares of stock in the eastern and middle western states are owned by women. In New Jersey every fourth shareholder is a woman, as is seen from the figures: Total, 78,725 shareholders; 58,496 males, 19,341 females; nine hundred and eighty-eight corporations and firms: percentages, seventy-four per cent., twenty-five per cent. and one per cent. respectively. The "present value" of the shares held by women in New Jersey is $6,401,593. By present value is meant dues paid in, together with accrued profits. Of the borrowers, or those who are securing homes for themselves by means of building and loan associations: In New York State 32,699 women hold 126,874 shares of stock, having a present value of $5,935,554, and a maturity value of approximately twenty-five million dollars.

The total membership of these societies in New York is composed of twenty-four per cent. women, though only about twenty per cent. of the stock is held by women.

In the city of Philadelphia 34,4000 women hold stock valued at $10,059,861, while the stock matured and withdrawn, either in money or in canceled mortgages, equals $15,000,000 more, within the past "maturing period" of eight years.

In the State of Pennsylvania $22,200,000 worth of building and loan stock is held by 92,000 women. Of the $960,000,000, representing the net assets of building and loan associations in the United States, $192,000,000 worth is held by 2,400,000 women.

The law of Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and probably many other states, makes building and loan stock taken out by women, and when the dues upon said stock is paid by them, to be theirs in every particular, and not subject to attachment or execution for their husbands' debts.

The question of the source from whence the dues come which are paid on shares held by women, is one that can not be answered in a very comprehensive way. One association, in New York City, visited by the writer, had sixty-three chambermaids among its membership, each earning by her own labor the money invested.

In a teachers' building and loan association in New York City ninety per cent. of the members were women earning their own money, and many of them having built several houses for rent through the association. In Buffalo, N. Y., I asked twenty-seven women who came in to pay their dues how they got the money. Twelve replied their husbands gave it to them.

One said her husband supported the family and she swept a large house for a wealthy lady twice each week and invested the earnings in building and loan stock. Another baked bread for three different families, and thus earned the money invested in dues. Five others earned the money themselves by various extra domestic jobs, such as sewing or washing for a neighbor. In all, seven married women earned their own funds; twelve did not. The remaining eight were unmarried and worked for their living. [Page 350] 

I have attended the meetings of scores of building and loan associations and asked the female members as they came in to pay dues what their source of income was, and I believe that less than fifty per cent. of them derive their money from their husbands. That is to say, one million three hundred and fifty thousand women are investing in building and loan stock the money they earn themselves, and this self-earned money, as distinguished from the total held by women is, at a low estimate, $86,000,000. Women investors in building and loan associations are usually working women or the wives of working men. A great many clerks and school teachers invest in this manner, as building associations hold out the prospect of obtaining a home, which is the goal of woman's endeavor; for almost every woman has some one for whom she desires to create a home; if not her own children, then parents or a sister or a brother; in fact, this is the strong motive among working women, and to attain this end they walk many a weary mile and deprive themselves of many a pleasure.

Women should exercise great care and do their best to ascertain from a reliable source the financial status of the association in which they desire to invest.

The tremendous financial power which women might become in this country they have never as yet realized. At my request, Mr. Hepburn, the late comptroller of the currency, sent out to the national banks a request to furnish him with a list of women holding bank stock, and the statistics which he collected were sent to me by Mr. Eckels.

It is an interesting point that the large amount of stock in banks owned by women does not come to them as a reward of their own labor, but is usually given by some relative. The tendency of men to put their money in the hands of women is becoming a very pronounced one; also most husbands and fathers consider bank stock a safe investment to leave to women. It is easily managed, the income is usually an assured one, and in the present status of women's information on financial matters, it does not require very much ability to draw little slips of paper against a definite sum; consequently that is regarded as an easy way of disposing of their future, and this is the point of view to be combated. Were the women of this country once to realize their power, the sense of ethical responsibility born of power would rise within them. They would no longer content themselves with giving their proxy when asked for it, and never voting themselves or attending a stockholders' meeting.

There is also another side. The men are constantly saying they are overworked: this is made the excuse for the bad management of many corporations. There are a large number of intelligent women in this country, owning great financial interests; these women would make excellent directors, they are conservative; with a little exertion they could acquire the requisite knowledge of finance and then relieve the men of some of the tremendous burdens from which they now suffer.

Before continuing further I will give the figures of the comptroller of the currency. It must be borne in mind that these figures represent only the national banks, and not all of them. In some states the private banks do not report. [Page 351] 


STATE AND TERRITORIES. No. of Shares Owned by Women. Par Value of Shares Owned by Women. No. of Women Employed. Salaries of Women Employed.
Maine 27,343 $ 2,540,905 6 $ 2,296
New Hampshire 13,635 1,350,493 11 4,541
Vermont 25,633 1,719,666 6 2,550
Massachusetts 214,169 21,738,195 32 15,394
Rhode Island 126,931 6,593,770 2 1,000
Connecticut 68,774 4,922,786 5 1,526
New York 264,053 18,317,471 44 18,952
New Jersey 56,894 3,604,290 3 1,106
Pennsylvania 267,779 17,267,184 26 10,723
Delaware 12,768 755,075 1 360
Maryland 119,886 3,739,205 1 416
District of Columbia 3,349 334,900 1 60
Virginia 7,174 717,400    
West Virginia 4,316 422,366    
North Carolina 7,351 549,250    
South Carolina 3,799 379,910    
Georgia 5,932 589,380 2 1,200
Florida 988 98,850 1 60
Alabama 31,962 698,700    
Mississippi 1,560 156,000    
Louisiana 4,174 417,475 2 1,560
Texas 213,261 2,326,570 3 1,700
Arkansas 1,477 147,700 1 600
Kentucky 32,331 3,085,580 6 2,680
Tennessee 15,404 1,496,400 4 3,920
Ohio 100,547 10,381,681 23 9,399
Indiana 30,255 3,025,558 24 11,510
Illinois 58,927 5,892,780 27 14,859
Michigan 24,850 2,464,091 11 5,780
Wisconsin 11,849 108,675 12 5,116
Iowa 16,306 1,620,488 21 9,593
Minnesota 29,563 3,032,177 13 5,640
Missouri 30,775 3,110,650 15 9,520
Kansas 10,008 1,061,088 21 8,820
Nebraska 8,927 903,318 19 10,090
Colorado 5,187 518,700 4 2,520
Nevada 5,000      
California 12,805 1,310,375 6 5,280
Oregon 2,093 224,800 4 2,450
Arizona 30 3,000    
North Dakota 2,102 210,200 4 1,930
South Dakota 2,988 302,820 9 4,329
Idaho 393 39,300 1 600
Montana 2,427 242,700 3 2,900
New Mexico 1,112 111,200    
Oklahoma 79 7,900    
Indian Territory 330 33,000    
Utah 3,229 322,900    
Wyoming 2,192 219,200 1 500
Washington 5,098 590,213 8 4,376
Total 1,703,759 $ 130,681,485 383 $ 185,797

The statistics of women as bank employes show that but a small number have entered banking offices, though women are admirably fitted for such employment. The work is well systematized; the hours fixed; there is no night work, comparatively speaking; and they are very expert in the handling of money. The well-known bank exam- [Page 352]  iner, Mr. Sturges, has written a paper on this subject, which will be found in the records of the Congress.

I have written to every woman bank cashier in this country, and I have received many interesting letters, among others one from Mrs. Annie Moores, President of the First National Bank of Mount Crescent, Texas. She says that she had never had her attention drawn to this point before, but that she immediately made it a subject of investigation and was perfectly amazed at the result. She happened at the time she received my letter to be in Virginia, and her investigation was in the County of Suffolk. She found eight stockholders in the bank of Monsmont were women, possessing by inheritance one-third of the stock, which they all voted by proxy. Further investigation has proved that two-thirds of the National bank stock of this entire county of Suffolk is owned by women. Mrs. Simpson, who is president of the Simpson Bank of Columbus, Texas, gives very much the same figures; and adds that woman to be capable of investing funds wisely and judiciously must be possessed of three essential qualifications–to wit: A knowledge of matters of finance, self-confidence, and firmness.

The keynote of the relation of the sexes is really a financial one; this may appear a very materialistic view to take of the situation, but the readjustment now in progress between the relative position of the sexes is largely of that character. Life was comparatively a simple thing when the law recognized but one responsible head to the family, of arbitrary power over its goods and chattels. The position of a married woman or an unmarried woman in the household was that of a dependent. She was expected to marry; failing that the family had a right to her services without remuneration. Under this primitive system protected by the English common law, the family was really presided over by the father. No one acquainted with the social life of this country forty years ago can deny this fact. The wife, in many cases the active partner of the concern, had absolutely no financial independence. Most of the young women of that day employed themselves in household work; some few taught school; some few went out as seamstresses and dressmakers, and their wages were largely appropriated by the younger members of the family to help the boys through college or for current expenses. Only a widow, and she in a very limited sense, ever thought of commerce, and no consideration was given to women as investors, their "nearest of kin" among men doing the investing for them. But within the last thirty years, public opinion, and the laggard that always follows it, the law, have revolutionized the financial standing of woman.

The Code Napoleon was the forerunner of the financial emancipation of woman, recognizing as it did her financial status as a partner in marriage; consequently French women are financiers, and are more largely engaged in commerce than the women of any other nation, and not as employes but as employers and partners; because the Code conferred on them, early in the development of the women question, a financial standing; and, far from being a source of danger to the family, it has proved in France to be the surest foundation on which the family can be established.

The baneful influence of the English common law in regard to marriage can never be overestimated, creating, as it has, between husband and wife, the feeling that the finances are exclusively in the hands of the husband; so that money is an unfortunate subject to discuss after marriage, and one to be scrupulously avoided before marriage. Many a girl marries a man ignorant of his financial resources, and most men in this country marry a woman without any discussion as to her financial prospects from her family or herself. The constant tendency of modern legislation is to rehabilitate the family as a partnership; and while the laws relating to the property of married women are modified and liberalized until her position is approximately one founded on justice, these laws are of so recent enactment that the feeling of ethical responsibility as to the making, managing and spending of money is not yet developed. Bank stocks are also largely in the hands of widows, or women who are not conversant with the needs of the younger generation, and consequently carry out old-fash- [Page 353]  ioned methods of giving their proxy to any one who desires to vote it. If once the feeling of moral responsibility toward the financial interests of the country could be aroused in women it would be greatly to the advantage of the country. In her heart of hearts she dearly loves a plain statement, especially about financial matters. She hates to be in debt, and extended lines of credit present no charms to her. She would be a tremendous conservative factor could she once undertake the management of her own financial affairs.

The French woman of today is conservative. Her constant participation in the commerce of the nation is creating of that country the financial stronghold of the world, prosperous, wealthy, and economical. I am not one to clamor for laws favoring the financial independence of women, and which are virtually aimed at her further enslavement. Too much protection is often dangerous. Her estate should be equally liable with that of her husband for the living expenses of the family, but not for his personal debts; where her money is being employed in business she should have the rights of an acting partner, and sufficient time allowed her at his death to wind up the affairs of the partnership, or create a new partnership if she so desires. There is no reason why a woman should not go into business with her husband, and it is a mistaken idea that business should not be discussed at home, and a far greater mistake for a woman not to have the right of entrance at her husband's office. A woman is a thousand times a better companion who is informed as to the finances of the country, who knows the whys and wherefores of the market, and standing a little outside, with full knowledge of the inside, make her an invaluable counselor. There is something, too, in the added security of a man at his death feeling that he leaves behind him a woman able to direct her own business affairs, and with the knowledge requisite to put to its best use either the large or small amount of property which he leaves to his family.

[Page 348] 

Mrs. Ellen M. Henrotin was born in Portland, Me. Her parents were Edward Bryan Martin, Camden, Me., and Sarah Norris Martin, of that city. She was educated in New Haven, Conn.; Shankland, Isle of Wight, England; two years in Paris, and two years in Dresden. She has traveled all over Europe and America. She married Mr. Charles Henrotin, banker and broker, Chicago, in 1869. Her special work has been in the interest of women and social and economic institutions. Mrs. Henrotin was vice president and acting president of the Woman's Branch of the World's Congress Auxiliary, which arranged various congresses during the Exposition in Chicago in 1893. She filled that position with great credit to herself and profit to women in general. Her postoffice address is Chicago, Ill.


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This chapter has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this chapter were the work of volunteer
Mary Mark Ockerbloom.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom