Isabel Hamilton Benham ’27: Wall Street Pioneer

Mimi Simpson
When Isabel Hamilton Benham first expressed her ambitions for working on Wall Street, she was met with instant criticism and discouragement. A recent graduate of The Shipley School Class of 1927, she was a bright young woman, pursuing a degree in Economics from Bryn Mawr College. At this time, the kinds of careers available for women on Wall Street were almost exclusively limited to secretarial work—but not for Isabel Benham.

By applying her strong will and razor-sharp intellect, she achieved her goals and then some. Working as a statistician and analyst for the Wall Street bond house R. W. Pressprich & Co., Inc., she proved herself an asset to the company, becoming the head of their transportation research department and, eventually, their first female partner.

This impressive feat is merely one of many ‘firsts’ Benham went on to claim: she was the first woman on Wall Street to study the railroad industry, the first woman to be appointed to the Board of Directors of a railroad, and the first woman to hold a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.
She maintained a reputation as an expert on railroad finance, working as an appraiser for railroad properties, as well as an advisor to the British government on the British railways. This reputation was earned not only by her extensive knowledge, but by riding the rails and inspecting rail facilities herself, studying rail manuals and annual reports, and thus ensuring the quality of her work. Benham also kept a tiny replica of a diesel locomotive on her desk.

Her expertise in railroads and finance was only met by her abilities in leadership, having held a vice presidency at Shearson Hammill, and presidencies of both the Women's Bond Club of New York and of Printon, Kane Research Inc. Before her death in 2013, she donated large endowments to Bryn Mawr College, in an effort to encourage women to pursue the fields of science and international study, just as she did.

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The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.