March is Women’s History Month and VSECU has a lot to celebrate during this month. Not only did women play an important role in the development of the credit union industry in the United States, but they were equally necessary to the founding of VSECU.
A Brief History of Credit Unions
Credit Unions were formed to provide a safe and viable financial option for workers who did not have access to savings options or reasonable credit. The formation of credit unions started in 1852 in Germany, then came to Quebec, Canada in 1901. Finally, they arrived in United States in 1908, where the first credit union was formed in Manchester, New Hampshire, to serve the workers of the local mills. Today, there are more than 7,000 credit unions, representing 100 million members. Each credit union provides benefits to a specific “union” or group of employees.
Though many women played a part in building the credit union movement in the United States, three women stand out as integral pioneers.
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The Mother of Credit Unions
Louise Herring (1909-1987), who is now considered the “Mother of Credit Unions,” was only 23 years old when she started to organize credit unions. A graduate of the University of Cincinnati, Herring had a business degree. She was also employed by Kroger Company, a large grocery store chain. At that time, Kroger employees couldn’t get loans from banks, so they turned to a “bucket shop” that charged very high interest rates.
Louise, who had only heard about credit unions, proceeded to set up 13 volunteer-run credit unions to serve the Kroger employees. Herring became involved with the national movement and was a key delegate at the 1934 Estes Park conference that established the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). Helping people was her passion. She became the first director of the Ohio Credit Union League, where she helped organize 500 (yes, five hundred!) credit unions in Ohio, while attending to the needs of her five children. As an elderly woman, Herring underwent open-heart surgery. She didn’t recognize her doctor but he recognized her…years before she had approved a credit union loan that enabled him to finish medical school.
Spreading “Baby Banks,” Across the Country
Another delegate to the Estes Park conference was Dora Maxwell (1897-1985) from New York. After being trained by the Credit Union Extension Bureau in Boston, she organized hundreds of credit unions, often referred to as “baby banks,” for employees of companies throughout the country including Standard Oil Company; Peoples’ Natural Gas Company and Sanders Markets. CUNA established an award in her name: the Dora Maxwell Social Responsibility Community Service Award, which is given each year to a credit union for its socially responsible projects within the community.
Bringing Credit Unions to the South by Horseback
Angela Melville (1886-1977) was another woman, who rode into credit union history…by horseback! In the 1920s, Melville, who believed in the power of credit unions to make people’s lives better, traveled extensively throughout the south, helping farmers, coal miners, and other laborers to organize credit unions, often with the help of her beloved horse, Pearly.
VSECU’s Women in Credit Union History
VSECU was originally formed in 1947 for the benefit of employees of the State of Vermont. There were seven original founders, two of which were women: Hazel Chisholm of Montpelier and F. Lucille Anderson of Vergennes. With their fellow Vermont State employees these women petitioned the Commissioner of Banking and Insurance to found VSECU in December, 1946.
Mrs. Chisholm ran the first meeting of the members of VSECU on March 10, 1947. During this meeting, eleven volunteer directors were elected, three of which were women; and four volunteer officers were elected, one of which was Ms. Anderson, who served as Vice President.
Mrs. Chisholm and Ms. Anderson played critical roles in developing the credit union that was, per meeting minutes “…formed to encourage employees to make regular small savings and also to loan money for productive or other helpful purposes to the said members.” Since these women helped bring the credit union to Vermont State employees, VSECU has evolved to meet the needs of over 63,000 members who live or work in Vermont.
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