This Week in History: Banking on the Legacy of Mary Roebling
It’s Women’s History Month, and we will be highlighting the stories of women who broke barriers in the Capital City and beyond all month. One such woman was Mary Roebling, President of the Trenton Trust Co. As a pioneer for women in banking and business, her story inspires any woman seeking to make her mark in a male-dominated space. As a true example of what it means to shatter the glass ceiling, we can all gain inspiration from Ms. Roebling’s empowering tale.
Mary Roebling [née Gindhart] was born in West Collingswood, New Jersey, on July 29th, 1905. Her father, Isaac Gindhart Jr., was the Keystone & Eastern Telephone Company president, and her mother, Mary Gindhart, was a singer and pianist who worked as a music teacher. In 1920, when Mary was just 15 years old, she married Arthur Herbert, and the two had a daughter named Elizabeth.
Sadly, Arthur passed away just a few short years later, in 1922, leaving Mary a widow. Upon his death, Mary worked at an investment firm in Philadelphia, where she would also go on to take finance courses from the prestigious University of Pennsylvania. In addition, she would also go on to receive an education from New York University. This was Mary’s first foray into the world of finance, but it certainly would not be her last.
Mary left her employment at the investment firm to marry Siegfried Roebling, a successful businessman, and member of the famous Roebling family. Siegfried was affiliated with two powerful business enterprises in Trenton, John A. Roebling & Sons and the Trenton Trust Company. The pair were married in 1933, and the two had a child together. Tragically, in 1936, Siegfried also passed away, leaving Mary a widow once again. Mary inherited a large share of the Trenton Trust Company upon his passing. With an opportunity to lead, both Roebling’s father as well as her father-in-law encouraged her to take a shot at running the company.
On January 25th, 1937, Mary Roebling took the helm of the Trenton Trust Company for the first time. A swarm of media surrounded her, but Mary focused on creating a better banking experience for her clients. On her first day, Mary stated, “So many women have deposits in banks, so many women are interested in the retail and wholesale business … it is only natural that women are being elevated to positions of an executive nature.” Under her leadership, she helped the firm recover from the Great Depression and left the bank not just surviving but thriving. Over three decades of Mary’s supervision, the firm’s assets skyrocketed from $17 million to $137 million.
Mary Roebling was indeed a revolutionary in every sense of the word. In 1958, Mary was appointed the first woman governor of the American Stock Exchange. Mary also had a significant presence in politics and governance. For example, she served as an emeritus member of the advisory committee on women in the services for the U.S. Defense Department. She was also appointed vice president of the National Defense Transportation Association. But, perhaps the most admirable thing about Mary is her commitment to assuring other women were given the same opportunities she was to prosper.
Mary Roebling was a fierce advocate for women’s equality and economic advancement. For example, Mary only hired female tellers at the Trenton Trust Company branch. In a 1965 speech, Mary stated, “The American woman has almost unbelievable economic power, but American women … do not use the influence their economic power gives them.” Her other notable contributions to women’s liberation include serving as the finance chair for Trenton’s Maternal Health Center, board chair of the Women’s Bank of Denver, founding the American Women’s Council, and being a notable advocate for a female Vice-President.
Although Trenton Trust Company was merged with National State Bank of Elizabeth, NJ, in 1972, Mary remained chair of the merged banks until 1984. From start to finish, her career was defined by groundbreaking achievements and remarkable growth. With beauty and brains, Mary Roebling transformed Trenton Trust Company and changed the banking profession for women all over the country. Although Mary passed away in 1994, her impact is still felt in society today. Mary Roebling’s legacy is one of tenacity and transformation and something we can all be inspired by this Women’s History Month.
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