Did you know there were women bankers in 18th and 19th century England?
This week, I’m deep in the writing cave trying to get one project finished and another underway. And so, I’m reprising my March 2020 post from A Slice of Orange. The topic is timely for me! I have a heroine in the works who’s determined to manage her own inheritance.
Women Who Made Money
We’re living in interesting times. I was tempted to write a post about historical plagues and pandemics… But, if you’re like me, you’re heartily sick of hearing about them. [2021 note: heartily sick of politics as well.]
Today I’m sharing a gem of a book I found about women bankers.
Women Who Made Money: Women Partners in British Private Banks 1752-1906 , by Margaret Dawes and Nesta Selwyn
Regency romance enthusiasts will know the story of Sarah Sophia Fane Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey and one of the patronesses of Almack’s. Sarah inherited a partnership in Child’s Bank, and became an active participant in the bank’s management until her death in 1867. (Her mother, also named Sarah, had been cut out of the will after her scandalous elopement to Gretna Green with the Earl of Westmoreland!)
But, you ask, didn’t the law say that all of a woman’s property became her husband’s upon marriage?
The authors explain how some women, either through the wisdom of enlightened parents or their own power as widows managed this:
The law has always offered loop-holes. Provision could be made in her marriage settlement for a woman to retain the use of her own property . . . It was also possible for a woman’s property to be placed in the hands of trustees before her marriage, so that her husband could have no use of it without her consent.
Marriage settlements were extremely important financial and legal agreements negotiated by wealthy parties prior to marriage. Today, we call those “pre-nups”.
Middle-class Country Bankers
The book includes the stories of Lady Jersey and Harriet Mellon Coutts, an actress who inherited her husband’s interest in Coutts Bank and went on to marry the Duke of St. Albans (and still retain ownership of her wealth). But most of the seventy-six women bankers were solidly middle-class.
Many women established country banks with husbands or sons. Some inherited banks. Many also engaged alone or with husbands in other types of commerce, such as shipping, mining, or manufacturing.
And you won’t find most of these women mentioned in Wikipedia!
While I consider myself a feminist, that concept means many different things to different women. I dislike the sort of “victim cult” that some are obsessed with. It’s so disempowering and often manipulative. There’s no doubt that women had less rights and opportunities in earlier centuries, but there have always been strong women throughout history. We ought to put our focus on what we can learn from them.
If you’re interested in a chronicle of women in business in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, you might enjoy this book.