Financial Feminism: Credit Unions in the Women’s Movement of the 1970s

Joshua Clark Davis

In this paper, I will investigate second-wave feminists in the 1970s who sought to create non-profit, financial institutions as a means to counter the deeply unequal access to credit offered by male-controlled, discriminatory lending institutions.  Even after the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 banned discriminatory lending, feminists established credit unions for their fellow activists as part of a larger drive by the women’s moment for alternative institutions in the realms of business, education, and medicine.

In 1973, Joanne Parrent and Valerie Angers established the Federal Feminist Credit Union in Detroit, envisioning it as a financial version of the feminist women’s health clinics of the era. In order to join the FFCU, every account holder had to be dues-paying member of one of eight feminist organizations, such as N.O.W. or the National Black Feminist Organization.  The FFCU, its supporters argued, could provide feminists the financial foundation they needed for collective economic liberation from men.  Like other feminist businesses--including bookstores, printing presses, and craft stores--the FFCU also offered women the chance to find community in a predominantly female space. 

With this paper I hope to make a significant effort to counter the persistent myth that social movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s were anti-business and anti-capitalist. In short, the American left invested much more energy in trying to create a new, alternative capitalism than in defeating capitalism in the 1960s and ‘70s.