Muriel Siebert discovered an alarming trend while serving as New York state's first female superintendent of banks (or, as she says, the SOB). Siebert, who had taken a break from her eponymous brokerage house to run the state's banking system from 1977 to 1982, received countless letters from constituents complaining about their financial woes. "They were maxing out their credit cards and using check cashers instead of bank accounts," she says. "The people who could least afford it were paying the most."

In an effort to educate young people about money matters, Siebert has spent the past few years, and nearly $1 million from her own pocketbook, developing a personal finance course for high school students. The 21-lesson program explains the basics, from balancing a checkbook to reading a pay stub. It is now required in public high schools in New York City and is being reviewed by dozens of school boards throughout the country. Diane Bines, who teaches the course at Cardozo High in Bayside, N.Y., says it has changed the way her students think about their finances. "Before, they didn't think twice before spending all their money on gum," she says. "Now they know where the money is going because they see it on paper."

Siebert, best known as the first woman to hold a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, says her latest venture has proved more gratifying than her other firsts. "Those are things I did for myself because I wanted to be treated as an equal to men," she says. "With this program, I can help millions of people."

Nadine Heintz