Blazing Trails on the Stock Market Floor: Julia Montgomery Walsh
On March 30, 2016, AAUW Board Chair Patricia Fae Ho and CEO Linda D. Hallman, CAE, rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange in recognition of Women’s History Month. Although women have made tremendous strides in the financial world, it’s still largely male dominated. However, more than 50 years ago, one AAUW member broke through barriers for women right on the floor of the stock exchange.
Julia Montgomery Walsh (1923–2003), a graduate of Kent State University, was following a path of homemaking and motherhood as a military wife in the 1950s, but her husband encouraged her to pursue a graduate degree in business from George Washington University. In 1957, her husband died in an accident. As a widow with four young children, Walsh was faced with being the sole source of financial support for her family. A former university professor offered her a job as a broker with his firm, Ferris and Company.
Walsh then encountered a problem that’s very familiar to working parents no matter the decade: Who would care for her children while she worked the long hours necessary to build a career? Fewer child care options existed 60 years ago, so Walsh adopted a progressive — and somewhat revolutionary — approach to the dilemma of finding adequate care for her children. She hired her mother-in-law as a business partner whose job was running the household. Walsh’s mother-in-law received 20 percent of Walsh’s earnings, a pension plan, health benefits, and paid vacation. By doing this, Walsh legitimized child care as a profession that deserved adequate compensation and benefits like any other. Walsh also recognized her mother-in-law as a major contributing factor to her own professional and financial success — Walsh literally couldn’t have done it without her! At the firm, Walsh worked her way up through leadership positions and eventually became vice chairman.
In 1965, Walsh became the first woman to be registered with the American Stock Exchange (which would later merge with the New York Stock Exchange), breaking the exchange’s 116-year tradition of being male only. She was an active member of the AAUW Washington (DC) Branch, and, appropriately, in the 1950s she taught a money-management course to the branch’s Status of Women Committee.
In 1982, in recognition of Walsh’s achievements in the male-dominated financial world, the AAUW Educational Foundation presented her with the Achievement Award. At that time, Walsh was chairman of the board of her own investment firm, Julia M. Walsh and Sons, which she founded in 1977. She had also increased the size of her family to 12 children through remarriage. Like all working parents, Julia Montgomery Walsh juggled many responsibilities. She achieved great success but still found time to serve as a mentor and role model to other women in the financial field at a time when very few women were in it.
The AAUW Achievement Award is presented to an individual whose record of achievement in any scholarly or professional field spans 20 or more years.
By ringing the opening bell, AAUW became part of a longstanding tradition considered to be a high honor and mark of achievement.
When it comes to careers, motherhood is a condition that, rightly or wrongly, is blamed for lower earnings, slower advancement, and the absence of women from the workforce.