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Women’s History Month Part 2

Women in Credit Unions

Earlier this week, we introduced you to the Mother of Credit Unions, Louise Herring. An amazing pioneer of the credit union movement, and a woman we honor still to this day. If you missed the post, read it here!

Today is about another remarkable woman and pioneer of the credit union movement, Dora Maxwell.

Dora Maxwell

Dora Maxwell was born in 1897 in the state of New York. She and her five siblings were raised by her mom after her dad passed away when she was just two years old. While she was in high school, at age 14, her mom passed away. Dora left high school after two years and worked various office jobs for the rest of her teen years to afford a place to live. She began working as a secretary for a community church to supplement her income.

Dora eventually attended a class to learn about cooperatives. She was moved by the idea of grocery cooperatives but did not think one would work in New York City. Though, she knew she wanted to do something constructive with this knowledge. It was then that she partnered with Hyman Cohen, who had also attended the class, to start a credit union.

This was in the early 1920s, and credit unions at that time were not well-known yet. There were, however, organizations called axias that were operating illegally in New York. Axias were similar to credit unions but were not chartered and legal.

Dora Maxwell photo

Dora Moves Credit Unions Forward

Dora helped organize one of the first credit unions in New York: Consumers Cooperative Credit Union. It was headquartered in the church where she worked. She volunteered as the treasurer for the credit union for some time before being called upon to assist with additional charters around New York City and into upstate New York.

The New York Banking Commissioners Department in the early 1920’s was intimidating, male-dominated, and determined to not issue additional charters for credit unions. In Dora’s own words they were “antagonistic” and “armed.” But she persisted, month after month. Dora is credited with chartering over 120 credit unions in New York.

If you recall from our story about Louise Herring the conference held in Estes Park, CO to establish the Credit Union National Association, Dora Maxwell was also in attendance. From there, she traveled around the country to connect leaders of special groups with CUNA to allow for more new charters than ever before.

Dora believed in serving the underserved and focused heavily on small, rural communities that did not have other banking options. She was fierce in her belief that credit unions should uplift the communities they are in and do good. Dora was a credit union champion and incredible woman.

NorthRidge aligns with Dora Maxwell’s belief in uplifting communities and operating for the greater good. Our purpose is to support the people in our communities; to encourage their learning and understanding of their unique financial situations and provide tools for our members to reach their dreams. Dora’s amazing leadership still guides us, 100 years later. What an impactful woman!

Newspaper clipping from the Pittsburg Press in the 1920s: Three government representatives were in Pittsburg today completing organizations of Federal Credit Unions, those "poor man's banks" which promote thrift and make possible low interest borrowing by members. They have more than 600 applications from large and small business firms and individuals and expect to spend a month or more in Pittsburg and vicinity. Miss Dora Maxwell, who was trained in the work through the Credit Union Extension Bureau in Boston and has been organizing the "baby banks" throughout the country, was the vanguard of the official representatives.