FRASER has long celebrated the contributions of women in the economy and their participation in our nation’s economic growth. This past year, FRASER commemorated the Women’s Bureau Centennial, and in previous years topics have included the history of women’s economic rights, the early years of the Women’s Bureau, working women of the Women’s Bureau, and the women of the Federal Reserve. Also in 2020, FRASER expanded its existing collections of documents published by the Women’s Bureau and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Additionally, FRASER staff have added two vast United States governmental collections: Press Releases of the United States Department of the Treasury and the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) News Releases. These rich collections have allowed us further opportunities to explore notable women in economic history.

On April 26, 1933, President Roosevelt nominated the first woman as Director of the United States Mint: Nellie Tayloe Ross, who held the position until 1953. Prior to this appointment with the United States Department of the Treasury, on November 4, 1924, Ross was the first woman elected governor in the United States for the state of Wyoming. During her 20 years as director, Ross introduced the “Jefferson Nickel[1]; spoke of the unshakable solidarity, resilience, and readiness of American women in their support of freedom during the war efforts of WWII; called for the first Conference of Metallurgist and Coiners; assembled the annual Assay Commission; and pleaded with Americans to return pennies, the “Nation’s most used and useful coin,” to circulation during the Korean War. 

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Nellie Tayloe Ross, Director of the Mint, and Edward Bruce, Chief, Treasury Dept. Procurement Division, Section of Painting and Sculpture, inspect one of 390 entries in a contest to decide the design of the new Jefferson nickel. (Photo via Library of Congress)

The Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor is responsible for many firsts relating to women. Notably, during the Nixon administration, the Bureau was led by Elizabeth Duncan Koontz (1969-1973), its first African American director, followed by Carmen Rosa Maymi (1973-1977), its first Hispanic director. At the time of their respective appointments, Koontz was the highest-ranking African American woman and Maymi was the highest-ranking Hispanic woman to lead departments in the federal government.[2]

Under the leadership of Koontz, the Women’s Bureau continued to produce long-standing reference materials, such as the 1969 Handbook on Women Workers. However, Koontz also set out to gain visibility for the Bureau; she increased outreach by promoting its purpose and programs. Koontz, unlike her predecessors, took a stand in support of the proposed change to the Constitution known as the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA); and when the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972 was passed, energy was directed toward informing women, especially minority women, of their new rights under federal law.[3]

Directors of the Women’s Bureau Elizabeth Duncan Koontz (left) and Carmen Rosa Maymi (right). Images excerpted from Milestones: The Women’s Bureau Celebrates 65 Years of Women’s Labor History, a publication of the Women’s Bureau, 1985.

During her tenure as Director of the Women’s Bureau, Maymi expanded the Bureau’s outreach even further. Maymi’s experience included working for the Office of Economic Opportunity and submitting studies to the Committee on Economic Discrimination of the Domestic Council. Maymi  understood the importance and the need for the Women’s Bureau to find new ways of reaching minorities, youth, women offenders, trade union women, women living in poverty, and non-English speakers.[4] She did this by contributing to congressional hearings that focused on the unique challenges facing working women and by participating in motion picture interviews promoting the Bureau’s agendas. And, unlike the directors before her, Maymi connected with coalition leaders of labor unions; the Bureau supported the women’s rights issues distinctive of these groups.[5]  

Dr. Juanita M. Kreps—author,[6] economist, and first female director of the New York Stock Exchange in 1972—was the first woman to serve as United States Secretary of Commerce.[7] Appointed by President Jimmy Carter, Kreps held the position from January 23, 1977 – October 31, 1979. As Secretary of Commerce, Kreps released Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) News Releases regarding the gross national productquarterly reportsleading indicators, and regulatory setbacks. Along with reporting on the national economy, Kreps also participated in the development of international relationships and legislation by testifying before Congress regarding the 1977 Arab Boycott, overseeing the Sixth Session of the U.S. – U.S.S.R. Commercial Commission, and signing the Claims/Assets Agreement between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.

Economist Nancy Teetersappointed by President Carter in 1978, was the first woman to serve on the Federal Reserve Board. Prior to her nomination, Teeters’s career with the Federal Reserve began in 1957 as a staff economist. Throughout the next two decades, Teeters served in positions for the Council of Economic Advisers, the Bureau of the Budget (now the Office of Management and Budget), the Brookings Institution, and the Congressional Research Service.[8] While a Governor of the Board, Teeters was outspoken[9],[10] against monetary policy solutions favored by Chairman G. William Miller. During the November 1978 FOMC meeting, Teeters voiced concern for the economy, warning “we’re in for some trouble” if the FOMC continued to pursue tight monetary policy in an effort to combat the era’s rocketing inflation. In July 1981, the United States entered into a severe economic downturn, with widespread protests against the Fed’s tight monetary policy under Chairman Paul Volcker. At the FOMC meeting that month, Teeters famously lectured her colleagues, warning that “we’re really tearing at the fabric of the financial world and the economy.” She later said she specifically chose that metaphor as one only a woman would use, bringing a needed and underrepresented viewpoint to the discussion.[11] Though her opposition did not soften monetary policy moves of the era, Teeters became known for her strong will and ability to stand alone.[12] Teeters left the Board in 1984 and became Director of Economics at IBM in July of that year. Martha Seger joined the Board of Governors, the second woman to hold the position; Seger, also a frequent dissenter in FOMC meetings,[13] remained on the Board until 1991.

In recent years, more women have entered into leadership positions within the Federal Reserve, including Janet Yellen, who served as the 15th Chair of the Federal Reserve from 2014 to 2018 and was the first woman appointed to the position. Yellen made history again on January 25, 2021, when she was confirmed by the Senate as the first female Treasury Secretary. See Yellen’s Statements and Speeches and calendar from her time as Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System on FRASER.

[1] The Jefferson Nickel, designed by Felix Schlag, remained largely unchanged until 2004, when a limited series of coins commemorating Westward Expansion were released.

[2] Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor. History: An Overview 1920-2020.

[3] Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor. “Elizabeth Duncan Koontz.” Milestones: The Women’s Bureau Celebrates 65 Years of Women’s Labor History: 22.

[4] Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor. “Carmen Rosa Maymi.” Milestones: The Women’s Bureau Celebrates 65 Years of Women’s Labor History: 24.

[5] Laurie Johnston. “Women’s Bureau Takes Union Role.” New York Times, October 14, 1973.

[6] Prior to being appointed United States Secretary of Commerce, Juanita M. Kreps’s works were cited in various publications, including ones produced by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Women’s Bureau, and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

[7] Robert D. McFadden. “Juanita M. Kreps, Commerce Secretary, Dies at 89.” New York Times, July 7, 2010.

[8] “Nancy H. Teeters.” Federal Reserve History

[9] In an Interview with Nancy H. Teeter, Former Member, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Systempart of the Federal Reserve Board Oral History Project, Nancy Teeters describes the number of times she dissented, disagreeing with the popular views of the Chairman, particularly G. William Miller. There were times when her actions would, eventually, result in other board members dissenting as well (see pages 32-33 and 38-39). 

[10] Laurence Arnold. “Nancy Teeters dies at 84; first woman on Federal Reserve board.” Los Angeles Times, November 14, 2014. 

[11] Ylan Q. Mui. “Before Janet Yellen, there was Nancy Teeters.” The Washington Post, February 4, 2014.

[12] Arnold, 2014 (see footnote 10).

[13] Daniel L. Thornton and David C. Wheelock, “Making Sense of Dissents: A History of FOMC Dissents,” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review, Third Quarter 2014.

© 2021, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect official positions of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis or the Federal Reserve System.

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