Abstract: Whiteness and Women Bankers: The Role of Women's Banking Departments at the Bank of Italy, 1921-1930

Catherine Page


In the early 1920s, The Bank of Italy (later the Bank of America) opened women's banking departments in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Women's departments were created to attract female wage earners, businesswomen, and consumers by appealing to the specific needs and desires of women. However, the Bank of Italy's women's departments were not solely designed to attract female clients. They were also part of bank founder A. P. Giannini's strategy for transforming the Bank of Italy into a state-wide branch banking network. As the bank spread from San Francisco into Southern California, Giannini sought to expand the bank's clientele beyond its Italian immigrant base. Women bankers were an integral part of this successful expansion. The directors of the women's departments used their links to women's clubs and benevolent associations to attract new customers. Additionally, the presence of well-connected women bankers aided in attracting a variety of middle-class and native-born customers, not just female account-holders, because of the perceived connections between middle-class women, whiteness, and respectability. The directors also worked with groups such as the Italy-America Society to forge an image of Italian Americans that positioned them as fully white during an era when the racial status of Italians was contested.