Janet Yellen's Brooklyn Childhood Friends Remember When

Jewish Future Fed Chief Was Smart Cookie at Early Age

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By Reuters

Published October 10, 2013.
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To some who knew Janet Yellen decades ago, her nomination to lead the Federal Reserve was no surprise, and had them feeling reassured the country’s monetary system would be in capable hands.

“We referred to her as a stealth intellect,” said Charles Saydah, a retired journalist who went to junior high and Fort Hamilton High School in New York’s Brooklyn borough with Yellen. “She only called attention to herself when we compared marks - she always got the highest marks.”

U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday nominated Yellen, 67, the Fed’s current vice chair, to head the U.S. Federal Reserve when Chairman Ben Bernanke’s second term ends Jan. 31.

Yellen, if approved by the Senate, would be the first woman to lead the institution, and the first to head a central bank in any Group of Seven industrialized nation.

Though many of New York’s most prestigious schools were still not open to girls in the 1950s and 1960s, no one questioned Yellen’s academic future. “Janet could’ve run with any of those kids who went to Stuyvesant (High School),” Saydah said. “She was as smart as they were.”

As a teen, Yellen seemingly excelled at so many subjects that her friends were uncertain where she would make her mark. “She was a self-described nerd, nose to the grindstone,” said Saydah.

In her high-school newspaper, Yellen, who was both the class valedictorian and editor-in-chief in 1963, wrote an interview with herself, according to a copy of the paper located by The New York Times. She described her family’s trips to Haiti, South America, Scandinavia, Germany, Ireland, Scotland, Holland and Belgium, her love of off-Broadway plays, minerals, and a course she took in contract bridge.

Regarding her future plans at Pembroke College, then the women’s sister college to Brown University, she wrote that she had decided to major in math or anthropology or economics.


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