Posts Tagged Credit Union Pioneers

Women in the Early Credit Union Movement

Posted by on Wednesday, 18 May, 2011

Women were crucial to the success of the early U.S. Credit Union Movement. Credit unions would not be where they are today without they’re leadership, courage, and talent.

This article, originally written by Gabriel Kirkpatrick, highlights a few of those women who helped shape credit unions here in the United States. Their contribution cannot be overstated.

Written by Gabriel Kirkpatrick:

Gladys Bergengren

Gladys Burroughs Bergengren

Besides being the wife of the credit union pioneer and his constant chauffeur to meetings, she organized credit unions in her own right and earned a membership in the Founders’ Club. After Roy Bergengren’s death, she represented the family at many functions, including the dedication of the Filene memorial in Boston, the dedication of the Bergengren Credit Union School in Fiji, and the dedication of the Bergengren Memorial Museum Library in Filene House. She attended many CUNA annual meetings and had an active interest in the movement until her death at the age of 96.

Julia D. Connor

An administrative secretary in the Farm Credit Administration in Philadelphia was hired by Claude R. Orchard, Director of the Bureau of Credit Unions, in 1934. She distributed information on organizing credit unions to interested groups and was an enthusiastic spokesperson for credit unions. In February, 1938 she went to work for the Pennsylvania Credit Union League where she was employed as the first full-time executive. Most of her time was spent organizing credit unions and seeking league affiliation for credit unions which already existed. She collected dues, maintained statistics, and prepared reports of league and credit union meetings. She finally resigned in 1942 because of failing health. She had endured some prejudice in her position with the league. One director remarked: “It’s pretty hard for a bunch of men to let a woman get out in front and lead them.” Her replacement, a man, received a salary which was more than double what she had received, and he was also promised an 18% increase after five years.

Agnes C. Gartland

Agnes C. Gartland

In 1928, she was hired by Roy F. Bergengren as his assistant at the Credit Union National Extension Bureau (CUNEB). Bergengren spent so much time on the road that Agnes was virtually in charge of the office during his absences. She became manager of the League Central Committee which was the forerunner of CUNA Supply Cooperative. When the national association moved to Madison, Wisconsin, she moved with it. There she continued to work as Bergengren’s assistant and was also the manager of CUNA Supply Cooperative for its first few years. In 1938 she returned to Massachusetts where she became the managing director of Massachusetts CUNA, retiring from her position in 1959. She continued to assist other credit unions and leagues as well. Her correspondence with Bergengren, after he retired to Vermont and was organizing credit unions there, is one of the main sources of information we have on the progress of the credit unions from the vantage point of those no longer in the forefront of the national movement.

Frances P. Habern

Frances P. Habern

Began working for the Massachusetts Credit Union Association in September, 1919. In 1921 she was elected secretary-treasurer of the Massachusetts Credit Union League. She edited a column, “The Pioneers”, in The Bridge for several years. This covered significant events, questions, and accomplishments of the Massachusetts League. She was the major source of information for member credit unions, and she fielded questions which came to her. She organized credit unions and followed up with each of them to be sure they became fully operational. She attended Chapter meetings and offered her services to anyone needing them. She continued to work for the league until her death in 1938.

Gertrude Shelby Mathews

As a writer for the cooperative movement, several articles on cooperative credit appeared in Harper’s under her husband’s name, but later she wrote a series of articles under her own, including one on the caisses populaires in Canada. She was an active promoter of cooperative principles throughout her life.

Louise Herring, "a mere girl"

Louise McCarren (Herring), 1909-1987

Was sent to the Estes Park Meeting in 1934 by the Kroger Company (much to the dismay of Roy Bergengren who thought she was too young and referred to her as “a mere girl”). In fact, she was the youngest delegate to the meeting. She proved herself, though, by taking an active part in the conference. Returning to Cincinnati, she organized the Kroger Company Credit Union and went on from there to become managing director of the Ohio Credit Union League and assisted Bergengren in organizing the Michigan League as well. She remained the Managing Director of the Ohio League for nine years. Bergengren wrote of her, “I am inclined to think offhand that Miss McCarren would do a better job as managing director in Ohio than almost any man who could be available. The only argument I can see against her is my hoop-skirted thinking.” She married and raised five children while continuing her interest in credit unions. Over the years, she helped to organize more than 500 credit unions and continued to manage the Cincinnati Arts Credit Union for many years. In 1976, she was recognized by the Ohio General Assembly as the “mother of the credit union movement in America.” Then in 1983 she was inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame, alongside Edward A. Filene and Roy F. Bergengren. Several of her children also became credit union employees.

Dora Maxwell

Dora Maxwell (Steigman), 1897-1985

The most prominent woman in the early credit union movement, she learned about credit unions through her interest in the cooperative movement. In 1920, she helped organize a community church credit union in New York. This brought her to the attention of Roy Bergengren, who was looking for talented people to help him organize credit unions in each state. He helped her to organize the Brooklyn Postal Employees Credit Union and she went on to organize more on her own. In 1931, Bergengren asked her to work as a field organizer for the Credit Union National Extension Bureau (CUNEB). She was one of the signers of the CUNA constitution and bylaws at Estes Park. When CUNA was established in Madison, she worked as a field representative and wrote a column, called “Howdy Gals”, for The Bridge. She also wrote the column, “What About it” for a time. She became the Director of the Organization and Education Department of CUNA. By 1947 she had risen to be in-line for the Assistant Manager position at CUNA. Ultimately, she resigned because other directors would not accept the idea of a woman being managing director. She returned to New York State and continued to work for the Eastern District as a credit union organizer until 1955. CUNA’s Social Responsibility Recognition Program was named after Dora Maxwell and recognizes credit union involvement in community projects and activities.

Angela Melville

Angela Melville

A field representative for the National Credit Union Extension Bureau (CUNEB). She organized credit unions, primarily in the South (Kentucky and Tennessee) particularly among women’s groups, the poor, miners, postal workers, and railroad workers. She helped organize several leagues and chapters. Her service with the credit union movement was short-lived, but she nevertheless achieved much for CUNEB, including writing the first guide to credit union practice, Some Hints as to Usual Credit Union Practice, which ran through many editions and was the only publicity item for the movement for years. Angela Melville eventually moved to Jamaica where she became active in the credit union movement there.

Lillian Schoedler walking with Edward A. Filene

Lillian Schoedler

Administrative assistant to Edward A. Filene during the last six years of his life, she accompanied him on his credit union trips around the United States in 1933, 1934, and 1935. She set up meetings between Filene and credit union leaders in each state. She took extensive notes on all the credit union meetings and maintained lists of everyone he visited. She was an active participant at the Estes Park Conference and left a detailed record of proceedings there. She also accompanied Filene on his last trip to Europe and was with him at his death in September 1937. After Filene’s death, she sorted and archived his papers, eventually turning them over to the Twentieth Century Fund. They were ultimately presented to the CUNA.



RUAGG? Txt in the ’40s, and “For bologna see your butcher”

Posted by on Thursday, 30 September, 2010

Learning how credit unions marketed themselves and sought new members are benefits to working with archival material at CUNA.  Once in a while, I come across a campaign that serves as a reminder that  abbreviations and pithy slogans have been around for a long time.

RUAGG?  Was used in a membership drive by the Line Materials Company Credit Union of South Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1945 [Bridge, September 1945, p. 196-199].   I’m sure most of us can recognize the R-U as a texting abbreviation for ”are you.”  That leaves us with the need to decifier ”AGG?” For the Line Materials Credit Union, “AGG?” stood for “A Go-Getter?”

Placed together we have the question, “Are You A Go-Getter?”  While this question was asked in 1945, we can still ask it today.  In 1945, twelve questions were asked to determine if you qualified as a “Go-Getter.”  Today, we offer six questions based on those issued in 1945.

ARE YOU…talking to your co-workers about joining the credit union?

ARE YOU…promoting the services of credit unions?

ARE YOU…becoming educated in credit union activities?

ARE YOU…acquainted with the business affairs of your credit union?

ARE YOU…giving thought to ideas which will help your credit union grow and give better service?

ARE YOU…reading Credit Union Magazine?

IF YOU are doing all of the above you are on the road to being “A Go-Getter”; and a “GO-GETTER” can do more good for the credit union than anything else.

Now that we’ve determined that you are a “Go-Getter” we can discuss some other recommendations and slogans placed in newsletters and newspapers during the Line Materials Credit Union membership drive.

1.  Do you need a loan for income or property tax?  Secure it from your credit union.

2.  For bologna see your butcher; for facts on loans see your credit union.

3.  Our government requests us to ‘fill our coal bins early.’  If you need a loan consult your credit union first.  Save your war bonds.

4.  For a lawsuit see your lawyer; for an easter suit see your credit union.

5. Clean up! Paint up! Repair! If you are in need of a loan consult your credit union first.

6. Don’t cash in your war bonds if you need cash; consult your credit union first.

The Line Materials Credit Union also used letters, film strip  presentations and a 10,000 sticker campaign.  Today we understand a sticker campaigns as part of guerrilla marketing.  In 1945 it was suggested that members “use these stickers promiscuously and conspicuously,” by always carrying some and place them on menus, on soap, canned goods, packaged goods, periodicals, cigarettes, candy bars, and personal correspondence.  The message was the same then as it is now, “show your brand.”  Make your brand stand-out and be seen where possible.

The campaign was a success as 86 new members were added during the drive.  This increase was the highest in Wisconsin for 1945.

The photograph below shows Directors meeting to discuss the membership drive.  Shown are L-R: Walter Akre, Vice President; Donald Harling, Treasurer; Lawrence Giese, President; Harold Schroeder, Secretary; Ed Loewe; Herbert Bell; and Edith Worm.

These credit unionists were true “Go-Getters!”  They succeed in creating a successful membership campaign.  More importantly, they provided direction that we can still use today and provided even better lines for the next time you need a pithy saying with a credit union slant.

Lawrence Giese outlining preliminary membership drive plans for consideration of directors, around table (left to right): Walter Akre, vice president; Donald Harling, treasurer; Lawrence Giese; Harold Schroeder, secretary; Ed Loewe; Herbert Bell; and Edith Worm.


What Do Credit Unions and Baseball Have in Common?

Posted by on Wednesday, 1 September, 2010

As we look back on an eventful August 2010, we can’t forget the 76th anniversary of the Estes Park meeting that formed our Credit Union National Association.

Credit Union Founders playing baseball at the Estes Park Conference in 1934. ID: 806426.

In August 1934, credit union leaders from around the country gathered at a YMCA camp in Estes Park, Colorado to hash out a future for credit unions in the United States.  Then, as today, meetings were long and went into the wee hours of the morning.  The discussions were often heated requiring committees to disband to “cool-off” on the porch of the lodge.  Additionally, recreational periods were provided for attendees to experience the beauty of their natural surroundings.  Welcome activities for attendees to clear their heads and refresh their batteries were hiking, horseback riding or playing baseball.

Viewing a picture of credit union pioneers playing baseball at the base of the Rockies one can feel the exhilaration of playing baseball in one of the most scenic places in the United States.  Moreover, with Roy Bergengren, the first Managing Director, looking directly back toward the viewer (folder in hand), one is instantly pulled into the game.  As John Fogerty might say, “Put me in, Coach – I’m ready to play; today!”

Found deep within the CUNA archives this photograph shows Roy Bergengren in the foreground with white pants and folder in hand.  Sidney Stahl is forth from the right in the first base/right field area.  John L. Moore is third from the left with a document in the back right pocket.  Charles G. Hyland (barely visible) is umpiring at the pitcher’s mound.  Note on the back of one photograph refers to the mound as “Ritcher’s Mound.”