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When Spinsters Couldn't Get Credit

There was a time in American history when single women were routinely denied credit cards and loans, no matter how long they had been working and paying their bills. Divorcees and widows also found they had no credit history, because any family financial history belonged to their husband, and disappeared when he did. When did these discriminatory practices happen? In the 19th century? Try 1973.

Billie Jean King had served up Wimbledon gold several times, but when it came to establishing a credit history, she kept hitting the net. The tennis champ couldn’t get her hands on a credit card unless she used the name of her husband, Larry — an unemployed law student she happened to be supporting at the time. Lindy Boggs, who ran for her husband’s congressional seat after his plane disappeared in 1972, faced a similar struggle for credit as a widow.

While women have always been a part of the workforce in varying capacities, it wasn’t until World War II that working middle-class females became a thing. When the bombs stopped dropping, the ladies got laid off en masse to make room for the returning men. But they eventually bounced back, and women have been entering the labor force in increasing numbers ever since, earning livings and contributing to household economies. But just as steadily, through the mid-1970s, they continued to lack access to independent credit or credit histories — a discriminatory truth that left spinsters, divorcées and widows financially vulnerable.

It was Lindy Boggs who slipped "gender" and "marital status" into the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974. The overwhelmingly male US Congress hadn't even considered the plight of working women who had to ask their sons to co-sign for them. Read how that all changed at OZY.                     


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Before credit cards as we know them now, there was this thing called lay-away. MrsO told me that's how she could afford nice clothes when she was a poor single working girl.
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I remember it well. Because of the difficulty of women getting credit, my husband and I opened our credit cards in my name. Now, if I die first, he will be the one with no credit. We didn't imagine the cards still being in my name after 50 years. We didn't think that far ahead.
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