Helen Dudar, a journalist who was a member of the bank’s recruiting committee, explained to a reporter why Ms. McWhinney Dale was chosen for the job.
“What stands out in my mind about Madeline is her self-image,” Ms. Dudar said. “There was never a question in her mind that she was capable of being president of a bank.”
Madeline Houston McWhinney was born on March 11, 1922, in Denver, to a family with a history in banking. Her father, Leroy McWhinney, was a lawyer who became president of the International Trust Company, a Denver bank. Her mother, Alice Barse (Houston) McWhinney, earned an economics degree from Smith College — though, like many women of her day, she stayed home with the children.
The McWhinneys were “Western with Eastern aspirations,” Ms. McWhinney-Morse, her sister, said, noting that all seven McWhinney children were sent east to college. Madeline McWhinney, like her mother, attended Smith. There, inspired by her father, who would discuss banking with her on their Sunday strolls, she earned a bachelor’s degree in finance. She later earned her M.B.A. at New York University, whose alumni association once named her “man of the year.”
Ms. McWhinney Dale went to work for the Fed in 1943, attracted by the higher salary (the Fed offered $300 more a year than other banks) and advancement opportunities (the men had all gone to war). As she reflected in a 2004 talk, one of her strategies for keeping her job and rising in the ranks of a male-dominated world was “doing all the things that the men didn’t want to do.”
That included specializing in computer technology and electronic communication, which in those days male bankers tended to view as beneath them. In 1960, Ms. McWhinney Dale’s knowledge led to her appointment as chief of the Fed’s newly created Market Statistics Department, which used computers to monitor the government securities market. It was an officer’s position, but as a woman she could not use the restroom on the officers’ floor.