Stephanie McGuire was looking through her grandmother’s old photos in 2013 when she spotted a surprising one from the early 1900s. It was of her family’s general store, which had a Wells Fargo sign in the window.
Her great-great grandparents, apparently, were once employed by Wells Fargo — just like she is today.
“Holy smokes,” said McGuire, who had worked for Wells Fargo in Vancouver, Washington, for almost 10 years when she made the discovery.
She brought the photos to the Wells Fargo History Museum in Portland, Oregon, where she learned that her great-great grandmother, Jennie Newbury Dustin, had been a Wells Fargo express agent and one of the longest standing postmasters in Oregon.
“That was amazing,” McGuire said, “especially since she was a one-woman show.”
A history of employing women
Wells Fargo has a long history of employing women. The earliest known female agent, Mary Taggart, was hired in 1873; she was responsible for the delivery of gold, mail, and valuables for Wells Fargo & Co. Express. By 1918, there had been 378 women who managed express offices for the company.
Newbury Dustin was one of those women. She and her husband, John Newbury, arrived in New Era, Oregon, in 1890. Together, they purchased the town’s general store, and John Newbury assumed the jobs of Wells Fargo’s agent and postmaster. He died in 1900, leaving behind his wife and five children.
Newbury Dustin quickly assumed control of the general store, which included a Wells Fargo express office. She took on the roles of Wells Fargo agent, postmaster, and railroad agent, while also managing to keep the store going. She married Wyman Dustin in 1905.
“Jennie had to be tough, but she was very personable, too,” McGuire said. “She basically ran the hub for the entire area.”
According to company archives, Newbury Dustin served as Wells Fargo’s agent in New Era for at least a decade and as New Era’s postmaster for nearly 35 years. She continued running the town general store and even expanded to include a local lumber company. She died in 1952 at 87, one of the oldest pioneers of New Era, and a woman who spent her entire life helping to build her community.
A new generation
Career opportunities for women in the 20th century continued to grow at Wells Fargo and throughout the country. When Wells Fargo Bank hosted a grand dinner for employees in 1917, nearly one-third of the team members were women. Since World War II, women have outnumbered men in financial services employment. Today, about two-thirds of Wells Fargo team members are women.
McGuire currently works as a properties asset manager at an office less than 30 minutes away from her ancestors’ New Era general store; she passes where it once stood every day on her commute to work.
“The building is no longer there, but the rose bush that belonged to Jennie still is,” McGuire said. “It’s probably 100 years old. Every year, if I drive by when it’s blooming, I stop by and pick some of the roses. It’s special to know I have my great-great grandmother’s flowers. It’s unfortunate that the building was demolished, but Jennie’s legacy lives on.”