Founded in 1983, the group achieved fame for their stock market acumen, claiming investment returns of more than 23.4% per year from their inception through 1994. They received considerable attention in national media outlets, and authored a best-selling book, The Beardstown Ladies' Common-Sense Investment Guide, following it up with four more books.
In 1998, an article in Chicago magazine asserted that the group's stated returns had included the new investments made by its members, and that when computed in conventional fashion, their annual rate of return for 1984–1993 was actually 9.1%, considerably less than the 14.9% return on the S&P 500 during the same period. Outside auditor Price Waterhouse, hired by the club, confirmed the sub-par 9.1% annual rate for 1984–1993. The auditor also discovered the Beardstown Ladies' annualized return was 15.3% when all of 1983–1997 was included; this was better than the average stock fund at the time, but still worse than the S&P 500 return of 17.2% for the same period.