Bank for the Ladies in 1880s

If you had female ancestors in Boston in the 1880s, they may have been a member of a unique establishment for the times. This unique establishment started in April 1879 by Sarah E. Howe was the Ladies’ Deposit Company (a bank) located in Boston. Sarah was unique herself, a former fortune teller, once married but now single in 1877. She saw a need for a bank for ladies. No advertisements were used to acquire new customers but rather she used referrals, members added by recommendation from other members.

Members were only single ladies who worked and did not own their own home and only deposits of $200 to $1,000 at a time could be deposited. The interest rate was 8% paid per month. Sarah got to know all the depositors personally.

Inside the deposit bank book was the saying “charitable institution for single ladies, old and young.” The bank inside was very nice, with rich furnishings. The business increased, having approximately 1,200 female depositors, with $500,000 in deposits, many from other cities such as Chicago, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and other locations. Some of those depositors were actually men who had female relatives open the accounts with the man’s money.

The newspaper, ‘Boston Daily Advertiser’ tried to figure out how the ban could pay 8% interest. The newspaper wrote many articles questioning the bank. Sarah claimed she was back by a Quaker Society Fund in Virginia. That was eventually proven false and Sarah was arrested on five counts of cheating by false pretenses. She had only paid the depositors with a new depositor’s money.

By April 1881 she was sentenced to 3 years in jail on four of those counts. She also had to return all the depositors’ money but by November 1881 she ran out of money. Sarah was finally released from jail in 1884.

Yet, she soon set up a new business named ‘Woman’s Bank’ in Boston and offered 7% interest. It continued for 2 years collecting $50,000 in deposits until one depositor wanted all her money immediately. Sarah instead left the area with $50,000 in deposits. She went to Chicago and opened ‘Ladies Provident Aid’, deposits to make 7% interest. The Chicago newspaper exposed her business and she flees the area. In December 1888 she was arrested on an outstanding warrant.

It was hard for people of the 1880s to admit a lady could be a criminal, it was said men were criminals, ladies only victims.

In March 1889 after being released from prison, Sarah Howe, went back to being a fortune teller, charging 25 cents a reading. She died on January 26, 1892, age 65, penniless and alone.

Imagine if you had found out in your family history research you were related to Sarah Howe or one of your female ancestors had done business with Sarah. Amazing story.

Photo: Ladies of the 1870s-1880s and News article on Sarah Howe.

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< Return To Blog This is absolutely the best find I have found yet! I love books and magazines of our forefathers. It’s great to be able see and read these in books and download some items I am truly in Seventh Heaven!
Caroline Yule 1/06/20

So glad you like the blog, I'm always looking for the unusual, forgotten and lesser-known.
alice 1/06/20

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