When Eileen Kraus entered the banking business in 1979, banking was on the cusp of being deregulated. Geographic, product, and pricing deregulation over the next several years fundamentally changed the industry leading to a more competitive environment and the need for new skills and backgrounds, especially sales and marketing skills. While Kraus joined the bank as a human resources executive, she had gained sales and marketing experience during the prior five years when she ran two of her own businesses. So when the bank's need for higher level marketing and selling capabilities became critical, Kraus was made head of marketing in 1983, and from there over the next decade she moved up the ladder, and in the early 1990s was named President of the bank.
Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Eileen Shanley Kraus graduated magna cum laude from Mount Holyoke College in 1960 and then moved to Connecticut following her marriage to Hal Kraus. Her first job was as a part-time assistant to then Secretary of the State Ella T. Grasso, a fellow Mount Holyoke College alumna. Grasso as Governor would later appoint Kraus to Chairman of the Governor’s Council on Voluntary Action. Before beginning her meteoric career in banking, Kraus completed an M.A. in political science at Trinity College where she also worked in the development office. With the birth of her daughter, she turned to volunteer work including The Junior League of Hartford (President from 1973-1975); Chairman, Governor’s Council on Voluntary Action; Founder, Hartford School Volunteer Program; Board of Directors, Child & Family Services; Board of Directors, Voluntary Action Center of Capitol Region; Trustee and Member of Finance Committee, University of Connecticut Foundation; and a panelist on Comment, a weekly public affairs television program on Channel 3.
In 1975, she founded her own company, Career Search Resources.
In 1979, Kraus was recruited to be Vice President of Human Resources Planning and Development at Hartford National Bank. After numerous promotions, in 1990 she was promoted to Vice Chairman of Shawmut National Corporation with responsibility for consumer banking and marketing for the corporation. Her 1992 appointment as President of Connecticut National Bank, Connecticut’s largest bank and a subsidiary of Shawmut National Corporation (where she remained Vice Chairman), was widely hailed as a milestone in the history of America’s women in financial services. (Connecticut National Bank became Shawmut Bank-Connecticut in 1993).
While at the bank, Kraus was active in civic affairs. She served as Chairman of the Greater Hartford Chamber of Commerce, Trustee of Trinity College, Trustee of Kingswood-Oxford School, Chairman of the Community Economic Development Foundation, and as board member of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, Yale New Haven Hospital, The Capitol Region Growth Council, Jobs for the Future, and Drugs Don’t Work.
Kraus credited her success to several factors: her fine education and a love of learning; a good mix of ambition, energy, and humor; a sincere interest in other people; a high degree of concentration and focus; and the willingness to take risks in order to capitalize on opportunities which present themselves. Often recognized as a model for other chief executives, Kraus defined leadership as the “art of working with others so they want to follow.” She was a feminist who believes that talent is genderless and that a diverse workforce serves the best interests of stakeholders.
After retiring from banking, Kraus continued to serve on numerous community and corporate boards, including Vice Chairman of the Capitol City Economic Development Authority, Vice President of the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, and Chairman of ConnectiCare Holding company and ConnectiCare, Inc., the Board of Directors of the Stanley Works Corporation, Kaman Corporation, and Rogers Corporation. Among her many honors are being named Business Leader of the Year by the Hartford Courant (1990), a Woman of Merit by the Connecticut Valley Girl Scout Council (1994), and Laura A. Johnson Woman of the Year by the Hartford College for Women (1998). Kraus was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame in 2002. She also held honorary doctorates from the University of Hartford and Charter Oak State College.
Eileen Kraus passed away on July 1, 2017, at the age of 78.
During This Time
1966 - Today: Struggle for Justice
Feminism in the late 1960s was aided by President Kennedy, who formed the President’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1961, and his successor, President Johnson, who backed passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. Difficulties in implementing the law through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) led a group of women in 1966 to create the National Organization for Women (NOW), demanding “action to bring American women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now.”
A younger group called for a more radical approach to social change than simply considering what was possible to achieve politically. “Women’s liberation” demanded freedom without limitation. Some took part in consciousness-raising groups, others demonstrated against the Miss America pageant, and many discussed their expectations of mutual enjoyment of sex. They established rape crisis centers, domestic shelters, and women’s studies programs. Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act also increased pressure on universities to hire more women faculty and expand the number of female college athletes. Activist protest among gays and lesbians, such as the Stonewall Riot, symbolized this group’s potential to resist oppression.
Under pressure, many states repealed legislation prohibiting abortion. In 1973, the Supreme Court legalized its availability to women in Roe v. Wade. Also in 1973, the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the ERA, and states began its ratification.
Yet, dissension arose in the ranks of the movement, as it had earlier after passage of the 19th amendment. Feminists disagreed as to whether pornography should be banned or protected as a form of free speech, and whether lesbian identities should be kept secret or disclosed. Black women were more concerned with poverty and welfare in their communities than with personal career advancement; for them, sterilization abuse was more important than abortion, and they were deeply insulted by attacks on the African American family as matriarchal and dysfunctional.
A backlash was growing in the 1970s, along with a New Right in politics. The ERA was defeated and opposition to abortion increased. Conflicts between pro-life and pro-choice candidates have impacted every presidential campaign since then.
Still, gains have been made in many areas. From 1960 to 2000, increasing numbers of women sought entry to higher education, and bachelor’s degrees awarded to them increased from forty to sixty percent. Definitions of marriage have changed, as when courts gave full rights and responsibilities and the name of marriage to same-sex civil unions in Connecticut in 2008. The Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 highlighted concern about sexual harassment on the job, and the number of sexual harassment cases filed with the EEOC have increased, as have judgments in favor of the women. Finally, in 2009, women crossed the fifty percent threshold and became the majority of the American workforce. Once largely confined to repetitive manual jobs, now they are running organizations that once treated them as second-class citizens.
The Women’s Movement has changed women’s lives, influenced the economy, and made debate about their roles, family life, and sexual conventions central to national politics and American history.
Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.