The history of women and money

The history of women and money

In 2022, it’s easy to take women’s financial freedom for granted – especially in the UK and US. But, just 50 years ago, women didn’t have the right to open their own bank accounts, let alone get a credit card or mortgage. And, until 1982, women didn’t even have a legal right to buy a drink in an English pub. 


Women have fought for financial equality for centuries, and each and every advance has been hard won. So, to celebrate International Women's Day, we’ve mapped the history of women and money in support of this year’s campaign to #BreakTheBias which makes it so much harder for women to move ahead. 


Take a look at our timeline to find out more about the money milestones that have changed women’s lives…


3100 BCE: In Ancient Egypt, women share the same financial rights as men, which means they can buy and sell their own property, enter into contracts without a man’s permission, and inherit wealth from their fathers and husbands. 


700 BCE: Women are no longer allowed to inherit property in Ancient Greece, but they are allowed to trade or run a business. 


27 BCE: Roman women have more rights than those in Ancient Greece. They are once again allowed to own property and inherit wealth.


610 CE: Islam is founded in Mecca in the 7th century, and women are given the right to inherit estates and own property. As a result, it’s not uncommon for women to be professionals and property owners. 


800 CE: Anglo-Saxon laws mean that women can own their own property both before and after marriage – and they can also conduct business on an equal footing with men. 


1100: The law of coverture changes things for women living in the Middle Ages. This English law sees married men and women as one person, and means that married women can’t own property or run businesses independently – although single women and widows can. Over time, coverture comes to represent the idea that married women are the property of their husbands. 


1848: The Women’s Property Act is passed in New York. This recognises women’s right to financial independence for the first time: American women can now receive an inheritance, collect rents – and they aren’t automatically responsible for their husband’s debts. 


1870: The Married Women’s Property Act is passed in the UK. As a result, married women become the legal owners of any money they earn, including property, investments and inheritance. 


1881: Single women in France are given the right to open their own bank accounts. Five years later, this right is extended to married women who can now open a bank account without their husband’s permission. 


1919: The Sex Discrimination (Removal) Act becomes law in the UK. This gives women the right to a professional career as an accountant, lawyer or vet. 


1919: The First Women’s Bank of Tennessee opens in Clarksville, USA. This new bank caters to women only. The bank employees and directors are all women – although the shareholders are men. 


1922: The UK Law of Property Act gives women and men equal rights to inherit property from each other. Before this, women had to give up all legal rights to their property when they got married. 


1938: In the US, the Fair Labor Standards Act is passed. This establishes a minimum wage, which benefits women with low-paid jobs. 


1963: President John F. Kennedy signs the Equal Pay Act. American women and men must now receive equal pay when they do the same type of work.  


1967: Muriel ‘Mickie’ Siebert becomes the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. 


1968: 850 women go on strike in the Ford factory in Dagenham, UK, because they’re being paid 15% less than their male colleagues for the same type of work. The strike ends after three weeks when they are awarded an 8% pay rise. 


History of women and money timeline


1970: The Equal Pay Act is passed in the UK. This makes it illegal for women to be paid less than men for the same type and amount of work, and to receive inferior benefits as part of their employment. 


1972: American newspaper publisher Katherine Graham becomes the first female Fortune 500 SEO, when she’s appointed CEO of the Washington Post company. 


1973: Six women are allowed to join the London Stock Exchange for the first time in its 200-year history – a breakthrough for women working in finance. 


1974: The Equal Opportunity Credit Act passes in the US. This makes it possible for single, divorced and widowed women to apply for credit and loans without needing a man to sign and guarantee their application. This also means that women can get their own mortgage for the first time. 


1975: First Women’s Bank opens in New York City. Owned and operated by women, the bank is founded by feminist author and activist Betty Friedan. 


1975: The Sex Discrimination Act makes it illegal to discriminate against UK women in work, training and education. As a result, employers, landlords, banks and finance companies have to treat women as equal to men for the first time. This means that British women can now open bank accounts and apply for credit and loans in their own name, without their husband’s permission. In reality, many women still find it hard to get credit due to low earnings – they typically earn less than men and are more likely to take career breaks due to pregnancy and childcare. 


1982: Women are now allowed to spend their money in English pubs. Before this they could legally be refused service as pubs were considered to be a ‘men only’ space.


1986: The UK’s Sex Discrimination Act (Amendment) is extended to allow women to retire at the same age as men.


1987: Statutory maternity pay is introduced in the UK. Eligible women are now entitled to receive six weeks of maternity pay at 90% of their usual earnings. 


1988: The Women’s Business Ownership Act opens doors for US women in business: they can now apply for a business loan without needing a male relative to sign the agreement. 


1990: Independent Taxation is introduced in the UK, which means that married women are now taxed independently from their husbands. Their income is now officially recognised as their own, rather than an extension of their husbands’. 


1993: As a result of a European directive, all working women in the UK are now entitled to statutory maternity pay.


2012: Louise Hill co-founds GoHenry in the UK – the first pre-paid debit card and financial education app for kids. 


2014: Janet Yellen becomes the first female chair of the Federal Reserve – the highest office of the central bank of the United States – in its 100-year history. Seven years later, in 2021, she will be appointed the 78th United States Secretary of the Treasury. She is the first woman to hold either role. 


2017: A portrait of Jane Austen appears on the £10 note. She’s only the third woman to be featured on a UK banknote, following Florence Nightingale and social reformer Elizabeth Fry. 


2018: Thanks to a UK government initiative, all companies with more than 250 employees must publicly declare the salaries – and pay gaps – of male and female employees. 


2022: The Rose Review finds that the growth of new female-led businesses in the UK is outstripping that of male-led companies for the first time ever.
Written by Ceri Roberts Published Mar 7, 2022 ● 5 min read