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Stephen Mihm: The Woman Who Broke Into the Fed

Stephen Mihm, an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia, is a contributor to the Ticker

The jockeying to succeed Ben Bernanke as the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board appears to pit Fed Vice Chairman Janet Yellen against a field that includes former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and former Vice Chairman Donald Kohn. If Yellen becomes the first woman to hold the post -- despite a few sexist swipes from Summers' supporters -- she’ll owe a special debt to Nancy Teeters, who broke the glass ceiling at the Fed when she became the first female member of the board in 1978.

Teeter was nominated in a different era, when the Equal Rights Amendment was under consideration and Jimmy Carter was president. Carter had gone on record as supporting an increase in the number of women and minorities serving in senior posts, so when Arthur Burns stepped down from the board in the spring of 1978, the search began. Filling the vacancy was deemed sufficiently important that Carter put Vice-President Walter Mondale in charge of creating lists of acceptable candidates, anticipating by many years the much-maligned “binders full of women” assembled by Mitt Romney’s staff.

“There’s a right person out there,” one administration insider confided to the press in March 1978, “and we’re hoping it’s a woman.” Fortunately, there were a number of female candidates with impeccable credentials, including Alice Rivlin, who would later become head of the Office of Management and Budget under President Bill Clinton, and served as Fed vice chairman from 1996 to 1999. But Teeters got the call, and with good reason: She had accumulated a wealth of experience working as a staff economist at the Fed, and at the OMB, the Council of Economic Advisers and the Brookings Institution. In 1975, she became the chief economist for the House Budget Committee and an economic adviser to the Carter transition team....

Read entire article at Bloomberg News