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Female Pioneers in Technology

Throughout the 20th century, more women joined the financial sector and began to assume leadership positions at JPMorgan Chase predecessor banks. At the same time, an increased emphasis on innovation saw the introduction of new banking technologies. Here is a look at three JPMorgan Chase employees who were pioneers in both leadership and technology.

Alice E. Backstrom

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Alice Backstrom was the first woman to serve as an officer at JPMorgan Chase predecessor Washington Mutual Savings Bank in Seattle. She joined Washington Mutual in 1918 and three years later was the chief assistant to the secretary, supervising the bank’s clerical force. At the time, she was one of three women working in management positions at Washington Mutual. In 1925, Backstrom was promoted to assistant secretary, making her the first woman officer at the bank. 

Backstrom managed the staff on the main banking floor and devised a system to semi-annually compute interest on all customer accounts during a single overnight shift. The task involved 60 large, multi-keyed calculating machines, called comptometers. Each machine came with an experienced operator, plus 40 accountants to calculate and post the transactions to the customers’ ledgers.  

Backstrom herself was known as the fastest comptometer operator in the Pacific Northwest and was affectionately known as “the magnificent Miss Backstrom.”

Geri Riegger Krakow

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Geri Riegger Krakow began working at Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company (MHT) in 1969 as a data center manager. In 1971, she became the first woman vice president at MHT as head of the computer department, which had only been established eight years earlier. Her position required her to oversee data processing, research administration, and programming systems.

She oversaw the installation of a new IBM 370, Model 165 computer in 1971. This was the largest computer IBM had delivered to a U.S. bank at the time and was installed in MHT’s Computer Center at 4 New York Plaza. According to Krakow, “this new computer system is the culmination of two years of extensive hardware changes, in which we have been attempting to transform the computer center from a small machine to a large machine environment…It’s a big step forward for the Bank.”

In 1972, Krakow was cited in New Woman magazine as one of the “female big shots in Fortune’s top 500.” Outside of her work in banking, she served as a White House Fellow from 1974-1975 in the Department of Defense.

Millie S. Barnes

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Millie Barnes began her career in 1965 at the National Bank of Detroit (NBD) as a proof machine operator. In 1976, she was promoted to Assistant Shift Manager, and two years later was promoted to Assistant Administrative Officer of the General Services Division. In 1987, she became vice president and manager of the Item Check Processing (ICP) group. The ICP group processed as many as 100,000 checks an hour at the Technology Center where Barnes worked. Quality and accuracy were key to successfully handling the $1.5 billion worth of checks drawn on NBD accounts every day.

By 1999, Barnes led Bank One’s Item Processing department for Michigan and served as a member of the Michigan Senior Leadership Council, ultimately retiring in 2000 as a vice president.


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