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Siebert, Muriel (c. 1932—)

Siebert, Muriel (c. 1932—)

American financial company executive and New York State banking commissioner who was the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. Born around 1932 in Cleveland, Ohio; daughter of Irwin J. Siebert (a dentist) and Margaret Eunice (Roseman) Siebert; attended Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University), 1949–52; never married; no children.

While vacationing in New York City during college, Cleveland-born Muriel Siebert visited the New York Stock Exchange and decided she would like to work there. Dropping out of college after the death of her father from cancer and moving to New York in 1954, she claimed to have a college degree and was hired as a securities analyst. Although she was assigned the industries of movies and airlines because they were, at the time, considered unimportant, Siebert quickly proved to be an excellent analyst, and forged important ties with corporate clients. She advanced rapidly on Wall Street, changing firms whenever her salary increases did not match those of her male colleagues; at times, she would discover that her co-workers were being paid 50 to 100% more than she was. Made a partner at a brokerage firm for the first time in 1960, within several years she was earning enough to consider going into business for herself.

In 1967, Siebert decided to buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, which had been exclusively male since its founding in 1792. Members who had promised to support her backed down at the last minute, there was hostility among some of the 1,300-odd men at the exchange, and Siebert's longtime bank would not lend her the purchase price. She secured a loan for the $445,000 from another bank, reported her lack of a college degree on her seat application, and on December 28, 1967, became the first woman member of the New York Stock Exchange. She later recalled the governor of the exchange asking, "And how many others are there behind you?" (As it turned out, she would remain the only woman member for the next ten years.) Muriel Siebert & Co., Inc. was highly successful, performing research for corporations and buying and selling financial analyses of stocks. When the Securities and Exchange Commission deregulated brokers' commissions in 1975, Siebert's company was the first to offer discounts to individual buyers. Traditionalists on Wall Street were further shocked when the company began advertising its discount brokerage heavily, but Siebert's business soared, and both discounted commissions and advertising are standard with many firms today.

Two years later, Siebert was appointed New York State banking commissioner by Governor Hugh Carey. The first woman so appointed, she put her company in a blind trust and began supervising the management of the $400 billion in assets in state banks. Savings institutions were going into bankruptcy throughout the country during that era, but Siebert worked hard and successfully to prevent the failure of struggling New York credit unions, savings banks, and savings and loans associations, using state funds to ensure solvency when necessary, and none failed during her five-year term. She also helped to restructure regulations on foreign banks, bringing the state over $100 billion in funds from foreign countries. Although she won praise from the banking industry for her performance as banking commissioner, by 1982 Siebert was looking for a new challenge. After running unsuccessfully for nomination to the Senate in the Republican primary, she returned to the chair and presidency of Muriel Siebert & Co.

The firm had suffered some business losses in her absence, but Siebert rejected buyout proposals and by 1985 had so improved the company's performance she herself was able to buy out two failed competitors. That year she became a founding member of the National Women's Forum, a networking organization for successful professional women. In 1990, she created the Siebert Philanthropic Program, which diverts some of her company's new securities profits to charities chosen by the issuers; over $2 million had been donated within the decade. She also founded the Women's Entrepreneurial Fund, which issues loans at no interest to women with small businesses. Now with offices in New York City, Los Angeles, and Boca Raton, Muriel Siebert & Co. went public in 1996. Siebert herself, often cited as one of the top role models for women in business, lectures frequently on college campuses and to youth groups. She also advocates tirelessly throughout the country for women running for political office, whether Republican or Democrat, noting, "Until 50 percent of the politicians are female we just need to support good women." The recipient of numerous honorary doctorates as well as the Women's Equity Action League Award (1978) and the Women's Hall of Fame's inaugural Emily Warren Roebling Award (1984), she lives in suitable style on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

sources:

Contemporary Newsmakers. 1987 Cumulation. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1988.

The Day [New London, CT]. May 21, 1995, pp. E1–E2.

Gilbert, Lynn, and Gaylen Moore. Particular Passions. NY: Clarkson N. Potter, 1981.

Martin, Jean, ed. Who's Who of Women in the Twentieth Century. Crescent Books, 1995.

Read, Phyllis J., and Bernard L. Witlieb. The Book of Women's Firsts. NY: Random House, 1992.

Ginger Strand , Ph.D., New York City

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