Female Finance Firsts: A Celebration of Women in Finance

March 01, 2023
Our Female Finance Firsts feature showcases the achievements of women who were pioneers in the finance and business fields.

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Center for Women & Wealth is celebrating women who were pioneers and leaders in finance and business. These women, dating back to the 1780s to the present day, broke new ground to pave the way for the success of the women who came after them. During this month, we recognize their courage, intelligence, and tenacity.


Abigail Adams
The second first lady of the United States, Adams was also the first documented female investor in the United States.


Victoria and Tennessee Woodhull
The Woodhull sisters opened their own firm, Woodhull, Claflin & Co., in 1870, making them the first female stockbrokers on Wall Street. Victoria Woodhull was also the first woman to run for president in 1872.

Late 1800s

Hetty Green
Green was the first female “tycoon” and was also known as the “Witch of Wall Street.” When she died in 1916, she had an estimated net worth of between $2.49 billion to $4.98 billion in 2023 dollars, making her the richest woman in the world at the time.


Maggie L. Walker
Walker was the first Black female bank president to charter a bank in the United States. The bank she founded was the United States’ longest continually run Black-owned bank. Disabled later in life, Walker served as an example for not only women, but also the disabled community.1


Madam C.J. Walker
Walker was not only the first female self-made millionaire in the United States – she is also one of the most successful Black business owners ever. Read more about her philanthropy here and here.


Mary Roebling
As the first woman to head a major U.S. bank and recognized as the “banker in high heels,” Roebling brought Trenton Trust Company’s assets from $17 million to $1.3 billion until retiring as chairman of the board in 1984.


Margaret Ogden
Ogden was promoted to analyst at Scudder Stevens & Clark (SSC) when the U.S. entered World War II. She remained as an aerospace analyst at SSC until she retired, making her reportedly the first female analyst on Wall Street.


Katharine Graham
Graham made history after becoming the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. She joined The Washington Post in 1938 and led the paper from 1963 until 1991. Among her many notable achievements was her role in The Washington Post’s uncovering of the Watergate scandal, which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. 


Muriel Siebert
Known as the “First Woman of Finance,” Siebert became the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in 1967 and was the first woman to head one of the NYSE’s member firms.


Janice Bryant Howroyd
Howroyd founded ActOne Group with just $1,500. She grew the business into the largest privately held, woman- and minority-owned workforce management company in the U.S. In 2020, Forbes called her one of America’s richest self-made women.


Rosemary McFadden
McFadden became the first women president of a U.S. stock exchange when she was named president and CEO in 1984 of the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYME).


Cathy Hughes
Hughes founded Urban One and took the media company public in 1999, making her the first Black woman to lead a publicly traded corporation.


Carly Fiorina
Fiorina became the first woman to head a Fortune 50 company when she was named CEO of Hewlett-Packard in 1999. During her tenure, HP became the 11th largest U.S. company.


Ursula Burns
Burns was named CEO of Xerox in 2007, making her the first Black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. During her time as CEO, she transformed Xerox to a formidable global competitor within the tech industry.


Christine Lagarde
In 2007, Lagarde became the first woman to hold the post of finance and economy minister of a G7 country. In July 2011, she became the first woman to serve as a managing director of the International Monetary Fund. In 2019, she began serving as president of the European Central Bank.


Sarah Blakely
Due to the popularity of Blakely’s shapewear brand Spanx, by 2012, she was named the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire at age 41. 


Kate Ryder
Ryder founded Maven Clinic, now the largest virtual clinic, and the first “unicorn,” dedicated to women’s and family health in the world. In November 2022, the company announced it had closed a $90 million Series E fundraising round — bringing the value of the company to $1.35 billion.


Janet Yellen
Yellen not only became the first woman to serve as chair of the Federal Reserve, but also the first Democratic nominee to run the Fed since Paul Volcker in 1979. In 2021, she began serving as the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.


Mary Teresa Barra
When she was named CEO of General Motors in 2014, Barra became the first female CEO of a major automaker. In this position, she has been credited with ensuring that the customer is the center of decisions made a GM.


Geisha Williams
Williams was named CEO of PG&E in 2017, becoming the first Latinx female CEO to head a Fortune 500 company. In this role, she ran a $30 billion firm with 20,000 employees. 


Whitney Wolfe Herd
Herd, the founder and CEO of dating-app Bumble, became the 22nd woman, and the youngest at 31, to bring a U.S. company public. Today, the company is valued at $4.74 billion.


Born Robyn Rihanna Fenty, the singer and beauty CEO became America’s youngest female self-made billionaire at age 34. Her companies (Fenty Beauty, Fenty Skin, and Savage X Fenty) all focus on bringing more inclusivity to the market.


Women Run More Than 10% of Fortune 500 Companies for the First Time
For the first time ever, more than 10% of Fortune 500 companies are led by women CEOs. On January 1, 2023, five new Fortune 500 chief executives brought the number of female CEOs up to 53.

The Center for Women & Wealth is committed to engaging and supporting women as they create and manage wealth. Learn more here.

1 Photo courtesy of National Park Service, Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site.

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