From the Archive: When a Jewish Fed chief was novel (and assailed by an anti-Semite)


With Janet Yellen poised to be the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve board, far more attention is being paid to her gender than to her Jewishness. This makes sense since she would be the third consecutive Jew in the job. Jewish Fed chiefs are by now nothing novel.

But in 1930, when President Hoover picked Eugene Meyer to head the Fed — the first Jew to hold the position — the headline of the JTA article on Meyer’s appointment labeled it an “Unusual Honor for Jew.”

JTA reported:

Not since Louis Brandeis was named to the Supreme Court by President Wilson has a Jew held so high an appointive office in the Federal government as Eugene Meyer Jr., who was yesterday appointed governor of the Federal Reserve Board. Few appointments made by President Hoover have met with such wide-spread approval in business and financial circles as has the naming of Mr. Meyer as head of the Federal Reserve Board.

By that time, Meyer had already distinguished himself in public service as director of the War Finance Corporation and as chairman of Federal Farm Loan Board. He had also been mentioned — though not ultimately selected — as a possible U.S. ambassador to Germany, which would have placed the Jewish Meyer in Berlin as the Nazis began their rise to power.

But Meyer’s appointment as Fed chief was not greeted warmly by Rep. Louis McFadden (R-Pa.), chairman of the House banking and currency committee. McFadden, who was a rabid anti-Semite, blasted Meyer as an “international banker,” connecting him to the Rothschilds. “If you want to turn the Federal Reserve System over to international financiers, place Eugene Meyer in that particular post at this time,” McFadden said. Hoover and leading Republicans in Congress, however, rallied to Meyer’s defense.

Meyer, though, had the misfortune of taking the Fed’s helm at the beginning of the Great Depression, with the nation’s economy falling apart. After a rough three-year stint at the Fed, Meyer went on to purchase The Washington Post — a paper that remained in his family’s hands until it was sold to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos earlier this year — and in 1946 became the first president of the World Bank.

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