Leading Ladies: Female firsts at the Bank of England

Read our blog to learn about the history of women working at the Bank of England.
Published on 31 March 2023


Kirsty Parsons, Exhibition Manager

Janet Hogarth. That name may not ring a bell to most, but she’s famous to us at the Bank of England Museum. She was the first ever Superintendent of Women Clerks at the Bank of England, employed in 1894. She reflects:

'Women in ordinary banks were unheard of, and their introduction into the Bank of England, of all places, caused a mild sensation…We were certainly a great innovation and the Directors were quite anxious about us…'. 1

Under the watchful eye of Hogarth (later Courtney), the Department of Women Clerks rose from five employees to around forty in just four years. Originally employed to count and sort returned banknotes, over time their duties were expanded to include typing.

Leading ladies typists

Exchange Control typists working at Threadneedle Street, 1955. Bank of England Archive: 15A13/1/1/23/10.

This work was pretty tedious and disliked by most of the women. Hogarth was open about how pleased she was to leave the Bank when she resigned in 1906:
'Many institutions – the Bank of England for instance – have made this experiment...The girls show a zeal and a zest which no boy thinks of emulating. But the trouble comes when they grow to be middle-aged women and are still kept at work only fit for beginners. They have become mere machines.' 2
By 1927, women made up 1,270 of the 3,400 strong clerical staff at the Bank, but they still weren’t climbing the ladder to higher roles within the Bank.

Leading ladies recruitment brochure

Recruitment brochure for women from the 1960s. Bank of England Archive: 4A156/1.

But what was it like for those first women who joined such a male dominated space? Well, they were certainly less respected than their male counterparts. An internal memo from 1920 gives us an insight:
'We are of opinion that…men will get through considerably more work than an equal number of women; & that…the standard of their work will be higher…The value of the work of Women Clerks is lessened because of their frequent absences, because they are emotional & easily upset…there is a tendency amongst the younger ones not to look upon their work as their career in life.' 3
Even if they’d wanted to, women couldn’t have a long-term career with the Bank if they likewise wanted to get married. Until 1949 women were made to resign upon marriage. Just before this rule was lifted, nearly 80% of the women clerks at the Bank had voted for the removal of this rule in an internal ballot. So maybe they did see a job at the Bank as a career after all…
As time went on, greater equalities between men and women working at the Bank of England were achieved. Under the Bank’s Scheme of Classification 1958, women’s salaries were increased so they were not less than 75% of men’s in the same position. The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970 and two years later, equal pay was fully introduced at the Bank of England.
So, despite having the Roman goddess Britannia as its figurehead since the Bank was founded in 1694, it took a while for women to find their place within the walls of the Bank of England itself. Happily, things are changing these days. The Bank of England employed its first female banknote designer Debbie Marriott in 1990, and in 1999 Merlyn Lowther was made the first female Chief Cashier. In 2003, Rachel Lomax was the first female Deputy Governor.


1. Courtney, Janet quoted in Acres, W Marston, The Bank of England from Within, volume II (1931), p.560.

2. Courtney, Janet E, Recollected in Tranquillity, p.149.

3. Kynaston David, Till Time’s Last Sand. A History of the Bank of England 1694-2013 (2017), p.342, 343.