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I grew up during the 70’s, a decade in which it started to become socially acceptable for even white, middle class married women to want careers.
Obviously, many women worked before that time, some outside the home and some in.
In the decades leading up to the ‘70’s, however, women increasingly held more and more jobs, especially as they realized the benefits of working after the two world wars.
These three new books cover some of the more glamorous ways that women squirmed their way into during the 20th century.
When Women Invented Television by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
Anything new also has the most opportunity, but the trick is maintaining your position when whatever it is becomes big business. Some people manage, some don’t. For some people, the opportunity was never meant to be permanent.
When Women Invented Television is a group biography of 4 female pioneers in the medium who were instrumental in developing television programming in different avenues, including the variety show, talk T.V., the situation comedy, and the soap opera. Some were forgotten as they retired, some went off in a different direction, and one of them is still performing today!
Unlike most of the women in the two books below, female television pioneers were not necessarily young, and they took a variety of paths…some with spouse and children, some sans spouse, and some sans children…just like, perish the thought, their metaphorical brothers!
All of their stories are worth knowing about.
The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free by Paulina Bren
When young single women of a certain social class started heading to the city to work…at least a while…before marriage, they needed a place to stay that was socially acceptable. The early 20th century was a time when any woman had to, in affect, prove she wasn’t a prostitute before she could get any hotel room, and a woman living totally on her own was morally suspect.
Prior to World War 1, the housing that existed that was considered appropriate for single women was geared more for the pathetic woman who “had” to work or for lower class women. When women started heading to the city because they wanted to, all female resident hotels or clubs were born, and the most famous of these is The Barbizon.
The Barbizon was an almost self enclosed world for women: they had their own pool and sports facilities, and a range of shops on the ground floor had entrances to the interior of the hotel to accommodate them. The “Seven Sisters” colleges (the female equivalent of the Ivy League, when the Ivy League was all male) located their clubs in the building, as did the Junior League. The Katharine Gibbs Business School maintained their own floors to house their students, and most memorably, Mademoiselle Magazine housed their College Guest Editors there, including, over the years, future icons such as Sylvia Plath and Joan Didion. The Barbizon was also known for housing models and various types of artists; they maintained studio space and soundproof rooms as well.
The story of this iconic institution is one story of female opportunity that still benefits us all!
3. Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am by Julia Cooke
Most of us today don’t remember it, but in the early days of flight, being a flight attendant was one of the most glamorous jobs a woman could have. You were required to be young, attractive, college educated, and single…also usually White (but not always)…which except for the college educations, was unreasonable and unfair…but for women who fit the bill, it provided one heck of an opportunity.
The most glamorous airline was Pan Am, that only flew international routes…but if you met all the requirements (which also included a second language with Pan Am)…you had opportunities that were unheard of for almost anyone, let alone women.
Being a flight attendant, both now and then, is about more than handing out drinks and stowing luggage…the flight attendants are basically responsible for the safety of all the passengers…and keeping the staff safe from the passengers…and making sure that we all get along! In the days of Pan Am, flight attendents were also responsible for doing all that AND serving gourmet meals in the air.
At times, they do even more, especially when there is a war or natural disaster.
There are good reasons that the airline industry has changed. I have to admit I still enjoy seeing the glamorous flight crews as they walk through international airports, as many airlines do maintain their hauteur through striking uniforms and rigid grooming guidelines. I am glad, however, that the field has opened up to all who are capable of performing the job, especially in the United States.
And as irritating as we all find flying at times, the fact is that deregulation, which led to more crowding, also led to lower prices so that more of us can afford to travel by air.
Nevertheless, looking back is fun. And the accomplishments of these women should not be undermined.
Please add your favorite books about female professionals below!