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Having It All, On Wall Street

As a student applying to college, my peers and teachers regularly ask me what I am interested in studying. However, when I excitedly answer “business and political economics and foreign affairs,” people often raise their eyebrows or look at me as though I have something in my teeth. One recent encounter stands out as particularly shocking: when touring a college last month, a fellow prospective student asked me what I was interested in studying. He looked very taken aback by my reply and responded by saying, “Wow. I think it’s really great that women like you want to be well versed executive assistants. My father always says how his secretary knows nothing about business—I’m sure he would love to hire someone like you!” Shocked and appalled, I walked away. Though this boy knew nothing about me besides my desired field of study, I felt crushed. I started to question my own instincts and interests and thought that perhaps I would be better of working in a field where I would not be one of the lone women. However, If Sylvia Field Porter could do what she did after the 1929 stock market crash as a Jewish woman, who am I to give up on my dream as a Jewish woman working on Wall Street in the year 2014?

Sylvia Field Porter was born on June 18th, 1913 in Patchogue, New York. Though she originally studied English at Hunter College, Sylvia decided to switch her major to Economics after the crash of the stock market in 1929. She later graduated magna cum laude and began working as an assistant to the president of an investment counseling firm. As she learned more about the ebb and flow of the United States markets, she simultaneously pursued an an MBA at NYU. Later, in 1934, she persuaded the New York Post to hire her to write a column about U.S. bonds under the gender neutral name “S.F. Porter.” In 1934, S.F. Porter became the financial editor for the New York Post. Later, in 1942, it finally became known to the public that their widely respected financial advisor was in fact a young woman.

Throughout her very successful career, Sylvia’s works were widely published and read. For instance, from the years 1984-1987, she had over 400,000 subscribers to her magazine Sylvia Porter’s Personal Finance. At the height of her career, she was a highly respected household name. In March 2000, Sylvia was posthumously named as one of the “100 business news luminaries of the twentieth century” by the Business Journalism Hall of Fame. She was one of six women to receive this honor.        

If Sylvia were alive today and had been present for my uncomfortable interaction with that fellow prospective student, she probably would not have let it faze her like I let it faze me. Sylvia was a dignified woman who trusted her instincts and defied gender roles in a time where that was even more frowned upon than it is today. She did not let other people’s opinions of her influence her opinions of herself, and had arguably one of the most successful careers in business and journalism of the 20th century.

As I wrestle with pursuing what I am truly interested in studying or what is more “widely accepted,” I must keep in mind the great obstacles which Sylvia overcame. In a time when women’s professional goals were limited to executive assistant's roles, Sylvia aimed to be the executive rather than the assistant. Sylvia balanced her family life, her Jewish life and her professional life in a time where women were often forced to pick one of the three. Every day, she defied the saying, “you cant have it all” and was widely respected by men and women alike, even to this day. If she could be successful in business in the 1930s with such grace, poise, and professionalism, who am I to tell myself that I am incapable of accomplishing the same now?

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"Sylvia Porter" by Tracy Lucht
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Sylvia Porter, a biography by Tracy Lucht.
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How to cite this page

Sinclair, Maya. "Having It All, On Wall Street ." 11 November 2014. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 17, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/having-it-all-on-wall-street>.

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