You will know my age when I reveal that the song “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” flower power and the Women’s Liberation movement were big news when I was in college. Women were demanding more career options, and the great push to “have it all” was driving 1950s-era stereotypes to the curb.
My generation may tend to think that it broke the glass ceiling for women, but in reality, the ceiling was at least cracked, decades before us. There were women — and men — who truly got it: We all can make invaluable contributions when provided the opportunity. Wachovia took this progressive viewpoint in an October 1909 issue of its magazine, The Solicitor:
The old story that the place for women is at home, or that they should be queens of households, is an insult to the progress and to the new social age…The absurdity of such an idea is sufficient to cause an acute attack of indigestion.
There is no phase of work or profession that woman has entered today that she has not blessed mankind and raised its standard of conduct…By this office work ladies become more self-reliant, self-supporting, and self-respecting. How supremely more gracious it is to see a lady performing proficiently the work of the bookkeeper or stenographer in a business office, than it is to see her wedged into a “H.M.T.” buggy, or hanging on the arm of a moral shark in the ballroom, or fondling a poodle dog or a bull pup with a blue ribbon waving from its tail.
The idler, male or female, is out of place in this age of activity and equal rights. The business woman is by no means the cold, heartless being that a few effeminate men would have you believe she is. She knows a tax receipt from a bank note, a man from a suit of clothes, and a business proposition from a ‘gold-brick’ scheme, whether it be in matrimony or barter.
Another astute writer noted in a March 1910 issue that “It often happens that a thrifty woman, unknown to other members of her household, will manage to save a dollar here and there, where a man could not, and many a family has been tided over periods of misfortune by this foresight of a wife or mother.”
Sue’s post last month described the Ladies Room at Wachovia, where women were encouraged to do their banking in an area set aside just for them. Wachovia knew that women held the purse strings in many homes– if they were not working themselves. The bank sought them as customers long before they received the right to vote in 1920.
John Watlington, CEO of Wachovia from 1956 to 1976, oversaw a dramatic increase in the number of female employees in management, policy development and officer positions. Mr. Watlington used to tell a story about Miss Cora Hart, who was the lone woman bookkeeper when he joined Wachovia in 1933. The head of the department had returned from the First World War and found, to his dismay, several women working in his department. He managed to get rid of all of them — except Miss Cora. According to Mr. Watlington, “she was as tough as he was, so she stuck it out.”
By 1999, women accounted for 75 percent of Wachovia’s work force and were represented at all levels of the company. 52 percent of the bank’s officers were women and 151 females were in positions of senior vice president or above.
Clearly, Wachovia appreciated the contributions women made long before the dawning of the Age of Aquarius!