A little while back, CUNAverse, the blog of the Credit Union National Association, ran a great post assembled by their Archivist, Shawn San Roman, that gives an overview of a number of the early credit union movement's leading ladies. The piece is a valuable starting point for anyone wondering about the historical role of gender in credit unionism, but it also leaves a number of questions unanswered.
For instance, by focusing on specific individuals within the movement, we are left wondering whether such committed activist women were exceptional cases or simply representative of thousands of other such women who labored for the benefit of the credit union movement all across North America. According to an essay the book Consumers Against Capitalism? Consumer Cooperation in Europe, North America, and Japan, 1840-1990, co-ops in late 19th and early 20th century Europe disproportionately empowered women when compared to other institutions, and it would be fascinating to know whether such trends were mirrored in the American credit union experience.
A good step forward towards increasing our understanding of this aspect of the movement's history might take the form of a survey of the make-up of credit union boards and committees over time. By looking at the percentage of women who served in leadership roles and comparing those rates with women's influence in other kinds of organizations, we might gain a clearer picture of what the movement meant to women, and what women meant to the movement. Until such a survey is undertaken, however, anecdotal evidence such as the CUNAverse piece nonetheless hints strongly at the important role that women played in the building of credit unionism.