Where Are the Women Economists? Here’s One You Should Know About
The nomination of Janet Yellen as chair of the Federal Reserve is a major victory but reminds us that much remains to be done if women are to achieve parity in the field of economics. Only one woman has received the Nobel Prize in economics, and the most recent recipients were exclusively male. News like this can be disheartening to read. But it also serves as a counterpoint to places (like AAUW) where women have long been recognized for an impressive array of academic fields and backgrounds, and economics is no exception.
During the 1940s, Mabel Newcomer, respected economist, was an AAUW board member. Newcomer was an economics professor at Vassar College for 40 years, from 1917 to 1957, and also vice president of the American Economic Association — the first woman to hold the position.
As an AAUW member, Newcomer participated in the work of the Social Studies Committee. She brought her expertise on the subject of taxation and fiscal policy to committee programs. In 1953, she received the AAUW Achievement Award. With the award stipend, she conducted research on the executives of major corporations: their backgrounds, families, educations, and personalities. As a result of the research, she published the book The Big Business Executive: The Factors That Made Him, 1900–1950. (Ahem … I am sure you noticed the word “him” … but look at the dates!)
In the mid-1940s, Newcomer was actively involved in drafting the economic policies surrounding postwar reconstruction of Europe. In 1944, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau selected her to represent the United States at the U.N. conference at Bretton Woods. She was the only American woman at the conference that would establish the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. After the conference, Newcomer authored Monetary Plans of the United Nations, a research and study guide designed to educate AAUW members.
For many years, Newcomer remained a professor of economics, staying at Vassar until 1957 and then teaching at Columbia University, Stanford University, and University of Chicago. She remained an active AAUW member until her death in 1983.
Newcomer brought AAUW her established background, and she enriched the association’s programs and research with a new lens of economics and fiscal policy. You see, AAUW didn’t need go out and find a man to bring authority on the subject of 20th-century economics. Newcomer was the authority.