Our heritage: Credit where credit is due

Our banks helped redefine who should or could be a customer.

We extended credit and banking services where they were needed and sought out all kinds of people as customers. As early as 1784, fifteen of the original shareholders of our very first bank were women. When our bank in St. Louis opened in 1847, we immediately set aside Fridays “for the female community.” A few days later, Mrs. Eliza Colton marched in and offered $100 for deposit. It was a Saturday. Nonetheless, Mrs. Colton became the first woman depositor and not the last to break the bank’s well-intentioned regulation.

In the early 1900s, if a bank had a women’s department, it rarely offered more than instruction on how to make out deposit slips or keep account records. This was not what Grace Stoermer had in mind when she accepted the assignment to lead the Women’s Banking Department at Bank of Italy in 1921. “I didn’t want the job when it was offered me,” Stoermer said frankly. “Then, I saw in this position a chance for real service to women, so I accepted it.”

As director, she prided herself on the distinctive features, services and amenities that her department offered. But she was also intent on there being “no disparity or significant difference” between it and the rest of the bank. Calling it “every woman's bank,” Stoermer determined to make it a complete bank within a bank, where the officers and employees were all women, doing business for and in the interest of women alone and doing it with real business acumen.