EXCERPT: 'When Everything Changed,' by Gail Collins

The airlines tried to make sure their stewardesses didn't stay around long enough to become dissatisfied with their benefits, or acquainted with their union. The average tenure when the Panter sisters arrived was about 18 months, thanks to a rule requiring the women to quit if they got married. In an era that was breaking all records for early weddings, that was all it took to ensure very rapid turnover. If a stewardess was still on the job after three years, one United executive said in 1963, "I'd know we were getting the wrong kind of girl. She's not getting married." Supervisors combed through wedding announcements looking for evidence of rule breaking. They discovered one stewardess had a secret husband while the young woman was working with Georgia Panter on a cross-country flight. When the plane was making its stop in Denver, a supervisor met the flight. "He pulled that poor woman off," Georgia said, "and we never saw her again."

"Hell yes, we have a quota"

Women were vigorously discouraged from seeking jobs men might have wanted. "Hell yes, we have a quota," said a medical school dean in 1961. "Yes, it's a small one. We do keep women out, when we can. We don't want them here – and they don't want them elsewhere, either, whether or not they'll admit it." Another spokesman for a medical school, putting a more benign spin on things, said: "Yes indeed, we do take women, and we do not want the one woman we take to be lonesome, so we take two per class." In 1960, six percent of American doctors were women, three percent of the lawyers and less than one percent of the engineers. Although more than half a million women worked for the federal government, they made up 1.4 percent of the civil service workers in the top four pay grades. Those who did break into the male-dominated professions were channeled into low-profile specialties related to their sex. Journalists were shuttled off to the women's page, doctors to pediatric medicine and lawyers were nudged into behind-the-scenes work like real estate and insurance law.

Since it was perfectly legal to discriminate on the basis of sex, there was no real comeback when employers simply said that no women need apply. A would-be-journalist named Madeleine Kunin, looking for her first reporting job, applied to the Providence Journal and was rebuffed by an editor who said: "The last woman we hired got raped in the parking lot." She applied to the Washington Post, which told her she was a finalist then called later to say: "We decided to give the job to a man." After going to Columbia Journalism School for further training she applied to the New York Times, hoping to become a copy editor. "We don't have anything in the newsroom for you, but I could see if we could get you a waitressing job in the Times cafeteria," said the personnel director.

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