Women were admitted into the workplace – albeit with less pay and opportunity for hotshot job titles – long before their income could be considered on a credit application. Women generally only had access to credit through their husband, and single women were presumably SOL. In 1974, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was legislated to combat this problem, and it forbid, among other things: the exclusion or downgrading of a woman's income; inquiring about a woman's birth control practices and child-rearing plans; and excluding alimony and child support from a person's income. Before this legislation was passed, it was customary for loan applications to require a "Pill letter" or "baby letter" from female applicants stating that they were on the Pill, had a hysterectomy or were not going to get pregnant.
In 1975, the First Women’s Bank was founded, and opened in Manhattan, New York. According to the New York Times, it was “the first bank in the United States to be operated by women and for women, at a time when its founders said that women were given short shrift by other banks.” It was sold in 1984, and its name was changed to appeal to a broader customer base, as by that time, traditional banks had begun addressing the needs of women.
Check out the comments section of this post from raincityguide.com, a Seattle-area real estate blog, for stories of how credit discrimination had affected women or their family members, and hear from some who worked in the lending industry and recall specifics about how it was an issue. Enjoy the "congrats on having a uterus" craziness!
–This story was originally published on May 19, 2010. Minor updates have been made.