When could women get credit cards? The 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act was a completely awesome piece of legislation. Why, you ask? Because, when 1974 came around, women could apply for credit cards, married or single. Two years after that, the ECOA was amended, including protection against discrimination based on race, religion, nationality, age, and more. But, how did we get here?
Let’s start at the very beginning.
The Ancient Period
When we think of the past, we tend to fall into the trap of thinking, “Oh, things were so awful back then.” That isn’t always true, not when it comes to women and finances. InAncient Egypt, women had the same financial rights as men. They could own, buy, and sell property by themselves. They had full legal rights in court and in contracts. Things shifted a little in Ancient Greece, where women were not allowed to own property or go to court without a man’s supervision. They could work and participate in trade, however, so some women ran businesses. By the time Ancient Rome became a thing, attitudes had shifted back. Women were once again allowed to own property, inherit it, and get a divorce. It’s safe to say that this timeline isn’t quite linear in its progress.
The Medieval Period
This is why we think the past sucks so much. Because, in the English Middle Ages, it really did suck for women. As the dominance of the Church solidified, so did the patriarchy. Women were shut out of positions of power and wealth, limiting their options for advancement in society to marriage. They couldn’t own property, they couldn’t run a business, and they were barely seen as humans. Men dictated that women’s sole purpose in medieval life was to get married and have children. There was a persistent belief that women simply didn’t exist without a husband—and this is called coverture. Coverture strongly implied that married women were the property of their husbands, an extension of them. The only way a woman could own property or a business was through widow or spinsterhood. Honestly, there was no winning as a woman in the Middle Ages.
With the formation of the United States came the introduction of states’ rights, freed from the control of the British monarchy. Mississippi and Maine were the first states to make progress in the area of women’s financial rights. In 1839, Mississippi declared that women could own property, while Maine declared in 1844 that women had the right to be seen as individuals, separate from their husbands. Baby steps, for sure, but a welcome change after decades of oppression under the laws of British coverture. It wasn’t until 1848 that women made a real step toward change. The Married Women’s Property Act gave women the right to control property they owned before marrying, preserved her right to control property gained while married, and her right to control her own inheritance, among other things.
Entering the Modern Era: When could women get credit cards?
1903: In an ironic twist, the first woman to open a bank in the United States was also not allowed to…open a personal bank account. Sorry, Maggie Lena Walker. Women would have to wait until the 1960s to secure that right.
So, when could women get credit cards? 1974: The Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Finally. Finally, women could apply for a credit card without a husband or a man to cosign. It only took centuries. Really well done, world.
Today, the financial rights of women are in a much better place. Women can own and inherit property, open a bank account and apply for credit, invest, own a business, and apply forloans. Women can take cases to court, serve on a jury, and vote. We can divorce—and do so quite frequently in the United States—and retain custody of our children. We can do all of that, and still, it’s not enough. We’re still not getting equal pay, despite the countless campaigns, protests, and lobbying to close the wage gap in the workplace. Ancient Egyptian women enjoyed an unprecedented amount of equality in society. It’s been 5000 years…how have we still not gotten back to where we started? We have to keep pushing, ladies. At some point, that glass ceiling is going to shatter.
Credit Shout is a community of personal finance experts dedicated to helping you save money and make smart financial decisions. Learn how to master your credit card rewards, improve your credit score and start eliminating your debt.