IWD2018: women throughout ANZ’s history

To celebrate International Women’s Day, all week bluenotes will be guest edited by respected journalist and author Catherine Fox. We’ll be publishing content on women, their experience in the workplace and the future of equality. We hope you enjoy it. 

On International Women's Day it’s important to look forward to the future - but it’s equally as important to celebrate our past.

It was only just over a century ago ANZ became the first company to employ a woman in banking.

This change was driven in part by Superintendent Edmund Samuel Parkes’ love of technology. Parkes had a keen interest in new technology - as well as introducing electric lighting to Melbourne offices (to the horror of his superiors in London) he also purchased the group’s first typewriter and employed a female clerk to operate it.

"With so many men on active service overseas during WW1, it was left to women to fill the hundreds of vacancies they left – often to distinction.”  - James Wilson, bluenotes historical editor

Mary Swifte was employed in 1880 at a salary of 25 shillings a week (roughly AU$2.50) and remained as the superintendent’s typist for 34 years.

Parkes was pleased with Swifte’s early performance and advocated extensive employment of women

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Mary Swifte (centre), pictured with her sister.

Swifte was so effective she supervised groups of junior male clerks later in her career, who were all expected to be proficient typists.

As ANZ’s archives record, the juniors were “wary of this small, plump women who inspected them daily to ensure they had clean hands, polished shoes and combed hair”.

Parkes’ untimely death within a month of proposing more female employees leaves us to wonder what more he could have championed.


During the World War I ANZ employees volunteered at a greater rate than the population as a whole. With so many men on active service overseas, it was left to women to fill the hundreds of vacancies they left – often to distinction.

By the time Swifte retired in 1920 policies had changed dramatically to admit more women into the workplace, although it was some time before they were permitted to handle money or serve customers. 

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Bank of Australasia Staff in 1917 including 7 female employees.

It didn’t take long for this to change. In fact it was (ANZ forebear) ES&A Bank which was the first bank to employ a woman into a frontline role.

Former bank manager Percy Wallis described Madge Mathewson, who worked in the bank’s Caulfield East branch, as the “most capable… teller I ever had”.


While the new recruits often served with distinction – some restrictions remained.

Bank of Australasia policy did not allow the employment of married women, meaning many who served during the war had to resign afterwards.

It wasn’t until World War II that this began to change.

Rather than require female employees to resign at the end of the war an inspector recommended taking the next step and training female clerks as tellers.

While it was not immediately accepted, the bank’s superintendent agreed to allow women to cover lunchtime gaps.

This change accelerated after the war as branches focussed more on customer service which in turn led to the greater employment of women, as ANZ’s advertisements from the time show.

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ANZ recruitment advert targeting men and women in the 1960s

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Typing school - Sydney 1950s

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Women in the frontline – ANZ employee on the frontline in the 1960s.

As well as employing women in frontline roles, ES&A Bank also kicked off an innovative new idea aimed at attracting female customers.

In 1965, the Ladies Banking Suite in Swanston Street, Melbourne was opened.

Designed to emulate a family home, the suite was a self-contained section of a branch where women could do their banking and was staffed entirely by female tellers (with the exception of a male supervisor).

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Ladies banking suite, Swanston Street, Melbourne 1965

No doubt

In the decades which followed there was an increase in the number of women appointed to managerial positions.

The 1970s saw women occupying roles such as the the first female branch accountant and the appointment of Sue McCarthy as state economist for Victoria – reportedly the first woman in any bank in Victoria appointed to a full managerial position.

In 1983, Dame Leonie Kramer was the first woman appointed to the ANZ Board.

As well as the first female board member, Kramer was the first female professor of English Literature in Australia, the first female chair of the ABC and the first female Chancellor of the University of Sydney.

Swifte would no doubt have approved.

James Wilson is historical editor at bluenotes & Peter Marinick is archivist at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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To celebrate International Women’s day, all week BlueNotes will be guest edited by experienced journalist and author Catherine Fox. We’ll be publishing content on women, their experience in the workplace and the future of equality as the world looks to #beboldforchange. We hope you enjoy it. #IWD2017