In the 1940s and ’50s, when Madeline McWhinney was a young economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, banking was such a men’s club that meetings were often held inside one. At such gatherings at the Union League Club on Park Avenue, which didn’t allow women to join until the late 1980s, Ms. McWhinney had to enter through a side door and be chaperoned by an older Fed official.
“Her approach was you power through it,” her son, Tom Dale, said. “But you do it on the basis of performance, competency, the value you’re delivering — not jawboning.”
In her quiet, confident, determined way, Madeline McWhinney rose through the organization’s ranks, becoming the first female officer of the Federal Reserve Bank in 1960. Five years earlier, she was the first woman to run for election to the board of trustees of the Federal Reserve Retirement System, which administered a $160 million pension fund. The position had traditionally been filled by a male vice president in an uncontested election.
“The man I’m running against is a nice guy,” she told The New York World-Telegram and Sun. “But it’s time he stepped down to make his chair available to a woman.”
A young Paul Volcker, later chairman of the Federal Reserve, was Ms. McWhinney’s campaign manager when she decided to challenge the incumbent, Frederick M. Smedley, for the spot on the board.
“We had fun. I got together a makeshift four-man band to parade down each floor (except the hallowed executive floor), passing out ‘Win With McWhinney’ campaign buttons to every employee,” Mr. Volcker wrote