Meet Sally Atkins, the First Female Bank Teller to Be Robbed at Gunpoint in California

At just 22 years old and only two months into her job, Atkins came face-to-face with an armed robber.

Reminisce Magazine vintage bank teller woman robbedCourtesy Reminisce Magazine
Bank teller Sally McMillan in an undated photo.

Before World War II, virtually all bank tellers were men. But as men went to war during the early 1940s, banks trained women to take their place. I was among 20 women selected by Bank of America to work as a teller at a small branch at Second and Western in Los Angeles.

November 23, 1942, was a day I’ll never forget. I was 22 years old, and just two months on the job. When a well-dressed man in a suit, tie and fedora hat came to my window, I greeted him with a friendly “Good afternoon.”

“This is it!” he shouted.

“This is what?” I asked.

The man placed a brown bag on the counter and said, “Fill it up.” Because of the way he was dressed, it didn’t dawn on me that this was a holdup. I was sure it must be a test of the new tellers’ ability to follow bank rules. Eager to pass such a test, I coolly slapped the bag open, then calmly stuffed it with marked bills.

“None of that stuff!” the man snarled, insisting that I fill the bag with cash from another teller’s drawer. Well, that was a big no-no from training: You never touch another teller’s cash! I firmly told him it was against bank rules (I thought I was doing well on the test). You can imagine the disbelief on the robber’s face. Other tellers later told me they couldn’t believe I refused the robber’s demands. (This person was shot, but still doesn’t hate guns.)

Reminisce Magazine vintage bank teller woman robbed 2Courtesy Reminisce Magazine
The staff at the Second and Western branch, including Sally McMillan (second from right).

When the man told me to stand in front of the other staff along the wall, threatening to shoot me if anyone moved, I finally realized this was real.

After the robber fled the bank, the manager retrieved his gun (in those days, each bank manager kept one in his desk drawer) and went after the robber. He fired, but the gun was jammed. The robber fired twice and fortunately missed the manager. The stray bullets were later found several blocks away in someone’s bedroom wall. Thank goodness no one was hurt.

The robber was caught after another bank holdup, and I had to face him in court. I count my blessings that the robber didn’t lose his temper with me.

I was told I was the first female teller to be held up in California, a fact that attracted much coverage in the press.

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Originally Published in Reminisce