Abstract: Wall Street Women: Constructing Genealogies of Business Women's Present

Melissa S. Fisher


This paper draws from a historical ethnographic study of the first generation of Wall Street women. Specifically, it is an account of how the pioneering cohort of women moved from relatively modest career beginnings—holding jobs on the lowest rungs of corporate ladders in banks (in the 1960s and 1970s)—to a situation in which many now occupy positions on multiple boards and are involved in philanthropic as well as political endeavors, particularly those focused on women. In order to understand how this happened, I follow the cohort from their initial entry into the financial world as young adults to the present, when many, now in their fifties and sixties, are moving into their "retirement" years. Drawing on over a decade of archival research and fieldwork on Wall Street and beyond, I argue that the women's career pathways must be understood in relation to a variety of historical frameworks. These include: epochal shifts (the globalization of capitalism), social movements (feminism), generational cultures (the baby-boomers), and changing conceptions of self, work, and retirement in America.