Every woman's bank

Bank of America’s heritage bank in San Francisco, Bank of Italy, created the country’s first bank by and for women, the Women’s Banking Department—a bank within the bank that gave women access to their own accounts where they could manage their finances without the involvement of their spouses.

Prior to the women's liberation movement in the United States, women did not have the right to vote, own property or even manage their own bank accounts. In 1921, the first significant victory of the movement culminated in the passing of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. Shortly following this historical achievement, our heritage bank in San Francisco, Bank of Italy, opened the country's first bank by and for women, the Women's Banking Department. For the first time in America, women had access to their own accounts where they could manage their finances without the involvement of their spouses.

The department was directed and staffed entirely by women—another first for the country. An office opened in San Francisco in 1921 and another in Los Angeles in 1923. Both departments operated as separate banks, apart from the main banking center. In addition to regular banking services, the Women's Banking Departments offered advisory services and financial education to help empower women to make the best decisions for their finances. Education covered topics such as savings, trust services, commercial banking and investing. Its customers could also take out personal, real estate and building loans.

The departments also engaged in community outreach, working to create resources for beyond the area of finances. In Los Angeles, the department financed the construction of the Women’s Athletic Club. In San Francisco, the Women’s Banking Department financed the City and County Federation building, which housed a network of civic and philanthropic organizations run by women. Both departments were a huge success and grew rapidly. By 1927, the Women's Banking Departments had more than 20,000 account holders.

A.P. Giannini, the president of our heritage bank in San Francisco, learned that California had appointed its first woman to serve as the Secretary of the California State Senate. After completing her first term in the Senate, Grace Stoermer got an offer from Giannini to run the Women's Banking Department in Los Angeles. Her first instinct was to refuse the offer.

“I didn’t want the job when it was offered [to] me,” she said. “Then, I saw in this position a chance for real service to women, so I accepted it.”  

Stoermer got to work creating additional services for the Women's Banking Department to offer. She worked to remove the barrier between the Women’s Banking Department and the rest of the company. Stoermer saw the bank as a whole as a “medium through which women could assert themselves and take their rightful place in the financial world.” With this conviction, she coined a term that would become famously associated with our heritage institution, “every woman’s bank.”

Stoermer remained active in her efforts to make inroads for women until she retired in 1946. During her tenure at Bank of America, she served as president of the Association of Bank Women, the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles Soroptimist Club, where she inaugurated the “Forty Plus” program to assist older women in securing employment. Stoermer helped set a foundation for both Bank of America and the banking industry as a whole that would be built upon to support women colleagues, customers and clients for generations to come.

“By raising the economic standard of women, the whole community is helped, and through the upbuilding of the community, the State and the Nation are benefited.” – Grace Stoermer, director, Women’s Banking Department

Visit one of our Heritage Centers for an up close look at this and other stories from our bank’s history. Learn more