From the archives: seven female pioneers at Barclays
From Britain’s first ever female bank manager to the first woman board director, we dive into the Barclays archives to explore the rich history of female pioneers at the bank during the 20th century.
1. Hilda Harding, Britain’s first female bank manager
Hilda Harding’s career at Barclays began in London in 1934, when she joined the bank as a shorthand typist. She rose through the Barclays ranks, working as a ledger clerk and secretary before serving a decade in the bank’s head office as a general manager’s secretary.
In 1958, Harding made history as the UK’s first female branch manager and earned instant world-wide publicity. She insisted that the branch’s next two senior staff also be women, so that in her absence there would still be a woman in charge. The London branch built up a successful business quickly, spurred by Harding’s celebrity status. Many newspapers referred to her primarily as a “honey blonde”, and it was left to R G Thornton, Barclays’ general manager, to remind journalists that “we approached this appointment purely on the basis of merit”.
In a letter to the Daily Mail, published 20 May 1958, reader R E Hembling wrote: “Sir, – A woman’s place is in the home. We don’t want lady bank managers, Prime Ministers or big lady executives in business. God made women for the home to be man’s ‘help-mate and comfort adviser’.”
To which Jan E Dodge, a reader of the Daily Mail, responded in a letter published three days later: “Sir, – Not all women want only to be ‘helpmate and comfort adviser’. We have a mind which sometimes wants to work… Why shouldn’t we be bank managers, Prime Ministers or big lady executives in business if we have the ability?”
2. Peggy Nye, first female editor of Barclays’ magazine
Peggy Nye joined Barclays’ Intelligence Department in 1954, after which she moved on to the bank’s Advertising Department. A course at the London School of Printing earned her second place in the class – and an appointment as Assistant Editor of Barclays’ staff magazine, Spread Eagle, in 1961.
Six years later, Nye became the first female editor of Spread Eagle – and the first woman to hold such a position in any of the UK’s major banks at the time. As editor, she not only produced a monthly magazine featuring a diverse range of country-wide contributors, but also wrote articles herself. She covered ground-breaking moments like the launch of the first cash machine.
Beyond her achievements at Barclays, Nye also accomplished ‘firsts’ as a pilot. A member of the Women’s Junior Air Corps and one of only six women to win an annual scholarship for free flying lessons in 1956, she gained her pilot’s licence in 1957. She was the first woman to fly the Bolkow Junior in England.
Committed to giving girls and young women access to greater opportunities, she led a unit of 30 members as a Group Commandant in the Girls’ Venture Corps Air Cadets. She also provided lectures on aviation, delivered training, organised travel abroad and more.
3. Araxie Yaghlian, first female manager, Cyprus
During World War II, with Barclays recruiting women in large numbers as male colleagues left their roles for active service, Araxie Yaghlian joined the bank’s international arm in Jerusalem in 1941.
She transferred to Cyprus to help provide banking services for the British Army – tasked with ‘taking the bank’ to solders for whom it was too dangerous to travel. Risking danger herself, Yaghlian operated banking services from a caravan, church or even the back of a car.
In the 1950s, Yaghlian oversaw the Barclays agency in Episkopi, Cyprus, initially conducting business in a tent with a three-legged table and some chairs rescued from a pile of firewood. Later she recalled in the staff magazine: “When facing the tent for the first time, I could have done one of two things – I decided to laugh. I laughed when I banged my head against the signboard hanging at the entrance to the ‘banking hall’. I laughed when I saw the earthen floor of the tent with some stones and thistles thrown in … I laughed when the wind played havoc with my paid vouchers.”
Though never officially titled ‘manager’, Yaghlian was fully in charge – and known by all her customers as ‘the lady manager’.
4. Miriam Pease, first assistant staff manager
Born in 1887 to Joseph Albert Pease, a leading Liberal politician, Miriam Pease went on to drive innovation at Barclays in the 1940s. At the start of the decade, a record 6,000 women were employed by the bank – and its chairman, Edwin Fisher, decided Barclays needed a ‘woman superintendent’.
Fisher was aware of Pease, and wrote to her in 1941 asking if she knew of “a broad-minded and sensible woman with personality” for the role. “We should hope to find somebody of real quality for such a purpose,” he wrote, “and we should be prepared to pay a salary rising from, say, £600 to £800 per annum.” To which Pease replied with a tentative pitch of her own capabilities, writing: “I do not know whether you would consider the possibility of employing a woman as old as myself.”
A few months after their initial correspondence, Pease was appointed as assistant staff manager and was otherwise referred to as ‘organiser for the women staff’ at Barclays.
Shortly thereafter, she was also co-opted onto the Staff War Fund Committee. This appointment signalled the commitment of the committee to treat men and women equally, with the hope that Pease could provide more direct representation of women. Her crucial role involved sending parcels to staff serving in the Armed Forces and supporting children of staff who had died.
5. Anne Harwood, Britain’s second female bank manager
In 1935, Anne Harwood joined Barclays as a shorthand typist and ledger clerk. Almost 30 years later, after working in several different roles at the bank, she was the second woman to be appointed branch manager in Britain. This promotion came in spite of the comments of some chauvinistic male colleagues, one of whom Harwood recalled saying: “The day they appoint a female branch manager, the Spread Eagle will flap its wings and fly away”.
If a woman wants a career in the bank, there’s no reason why she shouldn’t have one.
Second female bank manager in Britain
A few years later, Harwood moved to the bank’s head office as ‘women staff manager’, the highest position held by a woman at that time. Harding said the most important part of her role was “keeping in touch with the women staff and letting them know that there is a woman who is deeply interested in them and the work they undertake”.
In addition to her day job at the bank, Harwood spent 10 years teaching evening classes in shorthand typing, and also worked to open three residences for 600 bank staff in London. A true pioneer for women in banking, Anne Harwood said in 1975: “If a woman wants a career in the bank, there’s no reason why she shouldn’t have one. But she’s got to show she’s an able person, that she will take her exams and qualify.”
6. Mary Baker, first female board director
Through her work with the National Association for the Welfare of Children in Hospital, Mary Baker gained a reputation for successful campaigning – and led a group of women who, among other feats, worked to change the taxation of a married woman’s income.
Serving for 17 years as Independent Director of Thames Television, Baker used her position to push the UK’s first corporate gender equality programme. She also joined the board of Avon, a company she admired for the way it empowered women to run their own businesses.
In 1983, Baker became the first female director of Barclays Bank UK – and used her position to promote equal opportunities during a time when 65% of the bank’s colleagues were women. Baker argued for greater awareness around issues like maternity leave, training and career development. In 1988, she became the first woman to sit on the group board as a director of Barclays PLC.
Speaking to Women in Banking in the early 1980s, Baker stressed the need to open doors for women – and for banks to wake up to women’s potential as customers with increasing financial clout.
7. Audrey Stone, developer of Barclays’ first computer manuals
Audrey Stone attended Barclays’ Wimbledon Training Centre in 1951, at which time the bank was embarking on a phase of branch mechanisation. An early pioneer in computerisation, Barclays was leading the use of computers in British banking by 1961. The bank purchased the EMIDEC 1100 for its first specialist computer centre in London, and it was into this world of experimental innovation that Stone entered.
The technological expansion of the 1960s created demand for staff members to operate the EMIDEC and IBM machines that Barclays used at the time. Stone was enlisted to drive this tech expansion by creating training and operator manuals, which would become core elements of the bank’s training programme in this new area of operation.
Stone also became a key figure for the implementation of computerised accounting ahead of Decimal Day in 1971. During this time, she led the integration of a prototype system linking all Barclays branches in Britain to a single computer centre mainframe. Though the project was beset with both technological and administrative problems, Stone’s contribution – like the contributions of other pioneering women at Barclays – was not forgotten.