‘I was raised in a way that when good things happen to you, you owe. I feel the obligation to slug it out for women.’
Muriel Siebert was born in Cleveland on September 12, 1928, the second of two daughters of Irwin Siebert, a dentist and his wife Margaret. She attended Western Reserve University for two years but left in 1952 before graduating because her father had become ill and the family’s finances would not allow her to complete her education as planned.
At the age of 22, she came to New York with $500, a used old Studebaker and a dream. She was hired as a $65-a-week trainee in the research department at Bache & Company.
‘The way it worked, everybody who was already there got to give the new kid one of their junk industries,’ she told the New York Times in 1992. ‘I got airlines, I got motion pictures—things no one wanted in those days.’
She changed jobs 3 times when she found that men doing the same work were paid more than she was. She also discovered when job hunting that when the New York Society of Security Analysts sent out her resume under the name Muriel Siebert, she received no inquiries but when the society distributed it under M.F. Siebert, the results were quite different.
It was a world where all the other women she met were secretaries, not brokers. Banned from investment clubs because of her gender, she could not gain access to the places where the best deals were made.
When she decided to strike out on her own and purchase a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, she was turned down by the first 9 men she asked to sponsor her application before a 10th agreed. She was told if she was admitted, her seat would cost $445,000 and insisted that she get the bank to lend her $300,000 of the total price, something it had never asked of an applicant before. The banks, in turn, refused to lend her the money unless the exchange admitted her.
‘There would be no loan until I was accepted, and I couldn’t be accepted without the loan,’ she said.
After 2 years she got the loan from Chase Manhattan and she was elected to the New York Stock Exchange on December 28, 1967, the first woman ever to be so chosen.
‘For 10 years,’ Ms. Siebert said, ‘it was 1,365 men and me.’
She continued to encounter resistance, and not only because she was a woman. Anti-Semitism was not an uncommon obstacle in the trust departments she dealt with, she said.
In 1969 Muriel founded Muriel Siebert & Company, becoming the first woman to own and operate a brokerage firm that was a member of the New York Stock Exchange.
In May, 1975 after the federal government did away with fixed commissions for brokers, Ms. Siebert declared her company a discount brokerage firm.
When asked about her strategy for dealing with obstacles, ‘I put my head down and charge,’ she said.
In 1977, she was named Superintendent of Banks for the State of New York, with an oversight of all of the banks in the state, regulating about $500 billion. Not one bank failed during her tenure, despite failures nationwide.
Siebert was an outspoken advocate for women and minorities in industry.
In 1990, she created the Siebert Entrepreneurial Philanthropic Plan, through which she shared half of her firm’s profits from new securities with charities of issuers’ choices. The program offered buyers of new securities a chance to help charities in their communities. During 2006, more than $5 million was contributed through this program.
She served as president of Women’s Agenda in 1998 and developed a program advocating ‘Financial Literacy for Women’ which continued until her death. And, when many small shopkeepers lost their businesses during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Siebert gave money to women entrepreneurs to help them get back onto their feet. In addition to funneling money to the causes she supported, Muriel Siebert was generous with both her time and her expertise.
In 2007, she celebrated the 40th anniversary of buying a seat on the New York Stock Exchange by ringing the closing bell.
Muriel ‘Mickie’ Siebert died in August, 2013 at the age of 84 years old. She never married or had children.
She left $100,000 for her beloved longhaired Chihuahua Monster Girl, claiming that she and her pooch were ‘not intimidated by the big dogs.’
Along with the $100,000 for Monster Girl’s caretaker, Siebert left $10,000 a year to the Animal Medical Center in New York on 62nd Street for the duration of Monster Girl’s life.
Ms. Siebert received The Athena Foundation’s highest award given to those ‘who open doors of leadership opportunity for women.’ She was also inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She is featured in the ‘Women and Wall Street’ permanent collection exhibit at the Museum of American Finance.