NEW YORK — Growing up in Cleveland, Muriel Siebert assumed she would get married and have children like everyone else.
But Siebert, known as Mickie, is not like everyone else. And life didn't turn out the way she expected.
She never married or had children, but she did achieve an impressive array of firsts--the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, the first female bank regulator for New York state.
Siebert also blazed the way for women into some of Wall Street's clubbiest all-male financial associations with aggressiveness and strength, yet with sensitivity to the status quo she was changing.
"Mickie is one of the most dynamic women I know," said Susan Falk, president and chief executive officer of the Express chain of women's clothing stores and a friend. "She is a role model for all women."
At 63, with a successful discount brokerage and underwriting firm that carries her name with offices in New York; Boca Raton, Fla., and Los Angeles, Siebert has achieved what few women even today have managed: She has made it big on Wall Street.
Some people might now be complacent. But Siebert dedicates her available time and money to helping women--getting them elected to public office or providing low-interest loans for their small businesses.
"I was raised in a way that when good things happen to you, you owe," said Siebert, gazing with the heavy red eyes of someone who sleeps little. "I feel the obligation to slug it out for women."
Elaine LaRoche, a managing director at the investment firm Morgan Stanley Inc. who has known Siebert for 20 years, said, "When people told her things couldn't be done she just laughed and got them done."
Siebert, the youngest daughter of a dentist and a painter, has competitive instincts that were evident early in life. As a child she won yo-yo competitions; in college, she played bridge.
She spent 2 1/2 years at Western Reserve University studying accounting and taking business courses. But when her father died of cancer halfway through her studies, Siebert dropped out. In December, 1954, with $500 and a used Studebaker, she headed to New York.
"New York was like a big play toy. I was fascinated," Siebert said.
A job at the United Nations didn't work out, so she turned to finance.
"If I have one talent, it's that I can look at a page of numbers and it lights up and tells me a story," Siebert said.
Her career has included overcoming a series of obstacles.
At her first job interview, the interviewer asked Siebert if she had a college degree, and when she said she didn't, he said, sorry, no job. At her next interview, with Bache & Co., the same question was asked. She lied and got the position.
Siebert started as a trainee in the equity research department at $65 a week and in six months was a securities analyst. She was given industries then believed to be going nowhere--airlines and motion pictures.
"I was given junk and it turned to gold," Siebert said, attributing her early success partly to luck.
Although it was initially difficult to get clients to take her calls, once they got to know her, being a woman was perhaps an advantage, Siebert said. "I was an oddball," she said.
Her activist side developed early. Although she brought in business for the firm, she was still making significantly less than male colleagues in comparable positions.
"The men were making between 50% and 100% more than I was," Siebert said. "Over the years I changed jobs three times because of pay disputes."
Siebert ended up as a partner with Finkle & Co., where she learned how to trade stocks and also acquired her vocabulary of four-letter words.
Finally, she was allowed to buy her own New York Stock Exchange seat. But there were more hurdles to jump: Members who had promised to support her suddenly disappeared.
The exchange also asked Siebert for something they had never asked of male members: a guarantee from the bank that it would give her a loan to buy the seat. The bank said, get the seat and we'll give you a loan.
"I was controversial," Siebert said. "When I got my seat the governor of the exchange asked me, 'And how many others are there behind you?' "
Siebert finally bought the seat in December, 1967, for $445,000, becoming the only woman among 1,366 members. She held that distinction for a decade.
Remarking on the hostile reception from some members, Siebert said: "It took a couple of years for me to realize that it wasn't anything personal, that they weren't against me. They liked the status quo and I was changing the status quo."
Once she started working for herself, the flamboyant side of Mickie Siebert appeared in press reports, which featured photos of her wearing leopard-skin coats, a suede pantsuit or something red, adding color to the grays of Wall Street.
Siebert never shunned controversy, although she picked her fights wisely.