BRIDEEN Marie (O'Brien) Crawford Milner CRAWFORD MILNER
BRIDEEN Marie (O'Brien) Crawford Milner CRAWFORD MILNER
Brideen Crawford Milner is credited with helping to break the glass ceiling in banking on both a state and a national level. She and her husband, Ben Crawford, co-founded a new bank, City Bank of Anchorage in l949, where over the next ten years, she served as an officer and head of public relations. They also co-founded a second new bank – Alaska State Bank, originally based in Fairbanks, in l961. To raise financing for the new bank, Crawford later said, “We mortgaged everything but the children!” Her husband was killed in a tragic plane crash as the banks were being merged, and she at 39, took charge as Chairman of the Board of the new Alaska State Bank merged it with City National Bank and building it into the third largest bank in Alaska with offices statewide.
Co-founding two successful banking institutions, and, as a young widow, serving as Chairman of the Board of a newly formed Alaska bank in the new state of Alaska was an amazing achievement for woman in the 1950’s and 60’s. It would be an amazing achievement today. Both banks were founded before Prudhoe Bay oil became the main stay of the state’s economy. The pre-oil economy depended on small business success and small businesses depended on bank financing. Crawford was well-aware of the critical role of banking in the new state and was known as a supporter of small businesses. Because there were so few women chairing bank boards, she was a role model at both the state and national level.
In the l961 Who’s Who, Crawford is listed as the youngest female chairman of a bank board in the world. A widow with four children for whom she was very proud; she was a respected and admired business and civic leader who was often asked to speak on Alaskan business issues as well as the role of women in business and banking. She believed “Alaska provides a challenge for anyone who has ambition, brains, and the desire to use them.”
An article about Brideen Crawford Milner in the l977 book: Alaska’s Dynamic Women, has one word under her photo: “Banker”. In the article, author H. Wendy Jones, wrote: “A petite redhead blessed with an infectious sense of humor, Brideen is not only family orientated but also competent in business and active in politics. Long before Women’s Liberation became a national issue, she was doing what others were just beginning to talk about. She has always exhibited the ability to meet ably and constructively the many demands placed upon her.” In a l968 interview she summed up herself and her attitudes: “I am an Irish Catholic and a trustee of American (sic) Methodist University; I am a Democrat and backed Wally Hickel, a Republican for governor. You might say I am all mixed up, but I am just an individualist, as most Alaskans are.”
She had a passionate love of Alaska and was active in the fight for Alaska Statehood. Throughout her life she was active in politics and civic organizations. Crawford was a philanthropist and member of many local, state and national boards.
Crawford was educated and trained “on the job,” first as the second of 11 children to Thomas and Kathleen O’Brien, first generation Irish immigrants and second as the young wife of Ben Crawford, an Alaskan boy who was interested in banking and made his wife not only his partner for life in marriage, but in his business ventures as well.
Growing up in the Seattle area, money was tight and, according to family legend, Crawford was “tough and smart, a beautiful Irish Catholic and the ‘protector’ of all the younger children, including the use of ‘fisty cuffs’ if need be.” “She was a tomboy,” her family says, “and it never occurred to her that she couldn’t do anything a boy could do.” She also grew up with the idea that what mattered is how you did a job…not whether you were a man or woman doing the job. In Fond Memories of Anchorage Pioneers, the author comments: “Brideen believed that Alaska provides a challenge for anyone who has ambition, brains, and the desire to use them.” The author notes: “She made no distinction between men and women.” “Mrs. Milner doesn’t think there is anything special about her being a woman in a man’s field. Her advice to women studying banking, or any other field for that matter is: “be a woman banker; don’t try to be a man banker – it won’t work.” Alaska’s Dynamic Women
Ben, who was born and raised in Alaska, met Brideen in Seattle and they were married in l942. They returned to Seward in l945 with their first two children. Crawford learned to be a banker, by working with Ben. Throughout his banking career Ben included her in an official role and she directed all advertising and public relations with City National Bank of Anchorage and assisted in the co-founding of both City Bank and Alaska State Bank. City Bank of Anchorage (later to become City National Bank of Anchorage upon admittance to the Federal Reserve) was merged into Alaska State Bank where she served as Chairman of the Board of Alaska State Bank from l961, when Ben died, to l969 when the bank was sold.
Crawford Milner’s professional and community involvement was extensive. She was State Chairman, Alaska Savings Bond Committee; Board of Directors, U.S. Savings Bond Division, U.S. Treasury; Executive Committee, Savings Division, American Bankers Association; National Association of Bank Women; Banking Public Relations Association, Trustee, Alaska Methodist University; Board, Alaska State Development Corporation; Charter Member of the Zonta Club of Anchorage and was a member of the Anchorage Women’s Club. Politically she was involved in campaigns for Alaska’s Statehood, appointed Chairman of Democrats for Hickel for Governor, and involved in numerous campaigns for U.S. Senators Gruening and Bartlett.
Brideen Crawford Milner was a role model because of how she lived her life. Her achievements would make her a role model today, but they were extraordinary in the l950’s and l960’s. She was a successful banker, wife, mother, businesswoman and civic leader. She was often invited to speak to business and civic groups about the role of women in business and banking in Alaska. She was interviewed and featured in Alaska newspapers and national magazines. She and her first husband, Ben Crawford, were a young, admired couple in a young Alaska where anything was possible. They were active in almost every aspect of Alaskan life. The tragedy of Ben’s death added a new depth to Crawford’s reputation – that of courage. Ben, 41, was flying his own plane with his wife and two of their teenage children aboard, when the plane went down off Annette Island in June of l961. She and the children made it out of the plane and swam to a large rock offshore. They were stranded on the rock – later called “the miracle rock” over four hours before they were rescued. The tragedy of Ben’s death came at a time when the new Alaska State Bank was just opening. Crawford was advised to sell the bank, and for some who didn’t know her, she was considered fair game. But she knew she had a good team and took over as Chairman of the Board of Directors. She and her team grew the bank into the third largest in Alaska and opened six branch offices. She sold the bank in l969 when she married Andy Milner, a second marriage that was also very happy.
Brideen and Ben Crawford’s four children are: Pat (and Dan) Moore; Dr. Ben (and Virginia) Crawford; Jo (and Rick) Briley, and Jim (and Terri) Crawford.
References and resources for this biography were:
Obituary: Milner, Brideen Crawford, 2/2/97 Anchorage Daily News, B6
Alaska’s Dynamic Women: 200 Years of Alaskan Women Volume II, H. Wendy Jones, pp 112-114
Who’s Who 1961
Fond Memories of Anchorage Pioneers: Crawford, Ben and Brideen; pp 52-53
1965 Annual Report: Alaska State Bank
Fairbanks News Miner, June 5, l961: Banker Killed in Plane Crash
Interview with Al Fleetwood, former Executive Vice President, Alaska State Bank
Judy Brady and Bonnie L Jack