Credit is as old as civilization itself, but throughout most of history, credit was pretty unregulated by modern standards. If you could convince someone with cash to loan it to you, there you were. If not, out of luck. At the same time, if you had money to lend you could charge whatever interest you wanted as long as you could convince someone to sign on the dotted line.
In this episode, I discuss how women used (and didn’t use) credit in Mesopotamia, Rome, medieval Europe, 20th century USA, and finally into the microfinance world of southeast Asia and South America.
Here’s the code of Hammurabi, where we learn that selling off your family members to pay your debts is fine, but they only have to work for a few years. There’s also an interesting blog post on Roman women borrowing and loaning money from each other. The details of court cases in pre-industrial Europe come from Women and Credit in Pre-industrial Europe, edited by Elise M. Dermineur.
Staying Solvent : A Comprehensive Guide to Equal Credit for Women by Emily Card gave me the details of her experience of credit discrimination and the political fight for equal access in the US. And Sarah Lyn Smith’s New Credit Rights for Women was the delightful little gem that seriously suggested I start my own feminist credit union. Both are long since out of print, but still available in my local library.
And finally, as promised, check your own credit report! The three major American bureaus are: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You do not need to pay anything to get your credit report once a year. It is a law that they must give it to you, so do not be bullied into paying for monitoring (unless you really want monitoring). Let’s exercise this right that women of the past fought for!