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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

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Womanpower

 

1957_0809_women02_2

I'm always interested in what working women--in this case a group of women writers--have to say about other working women. I wasn't surprised to find some attitudes that are outmoded today and I'll try not to judge the stories or the writers too harshly. But to discover a working woman staunchly preaching against other working women, that was a surprise, especially under the guise of reporting.

 

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The first story, by longtime staff writer Dorothy Townsend, stands by itself and reports on a luncheon speech at the Ambassador Hotel by Dr. Horace B. Cates of Good Samaritan Hospital examining the health issues of working women.

The second two, which were paired in the feeble hope that they would make more sense that way, also deal with the future of working women.

Norma H. Goodhue, The Times women's club editor for many years, focuses mainly on older workers and tacks on women as an afterthought. This is, after all, the women's pages. Although the subject belongs on Page 1, that day is long in the future.

The final story, by Anne Norman, is about the most important subject--the future of women in the workplace--but editorializes so heavily against working women that I am shocked it was written by a woman.

We can quickly dispense with the luncheon speech. The Times says:  "Married or single, the modern businesswoman often finds herself playing a dual role in society: career girl-housekeeper. She's a lot more likely to spend Saturdays cleaning the house or apartment than the male is." (Plus ca change, etc.).

In brief, because of the stresses facing them, working women "are apt to fall into a chronic physical and emotional fatigue, suffer insomnia, muscle spasms, tension, loss of or increased appetite, headaches, temper tantrums--any or all of these."

Why aren't women keeling over at an early age, like men? The Times says, "Thousands of years of childbearing has produced in women 'built-in reserves,' physical and emotional. 'For example, women can take insults that men couldn't take.' "

The story (Part 1, Part 2) about older workers is interesting mostly because it doesn't present the now customary view of baby boomers. In 1957, the fear was that the Depression-era "baby bust"  generation (the U.S. birth rate declined in the late 1920s and early 1930s) was joining the prime employment group ages 24 to 44, and would have to support baby boomers (ages 5 to 15 born after World War II) as well as older workers being forced to retire at the age of 65.

"The economics picture: A small working force will be supporting the very young and the very old; either give the older worker a chance to produce or expect demands for more considerations in the form of pensions and relief--which spells taxes," The Times says.

And finally, the shock in coverage of a national study titled "Womanpower," prepared by the National Manpower Council with the philosophy: "Women constitute not only an essential but also a distinctive part of our manpower resources. They are essential because without their presence in the labor force we could neither produce and distribute the goods nor provide the educational, health and other social services which characterize American society."
 

Rather than any further reporting, the article (Part 1, Part 2) quickly becomes a critique of the 400-page study. Now keep in mind that this was written by a woman--and a working woman at that:

"But the council, with the exception of one or two fleeing mentions, seems to be unaware that as more and more women leave their homes to enter the labor force, more and more children are going to be deprived of the only truly adequate care available to them, their mothers."

1957_0809_kids
(My caption: Above, young inmates languish at a Los Angeles day-care center, callously abandoned by their irresponsible working mothers instead of being at home, where they could improve their minds by watching TV shows like "Mighty Mouse," "Queen for a Day" and "The Edge of Night," ensuring that the U.S. doesn't lose the space race to the Soviets).

But wait, it gets much worse. After conceding that some women, such as divorcees and widows, have to work, the story faults working wives:

"The council says that these mothers go to work because of 'the desire for a higher standard of living in a culture which encourages ever-rising consumption and material well-being.'

"That's a polite way of saying that the mothers of today put the latest appliances, modern homes and fin-tailed automobiles ahead of their children's welfare."
 
--snip--
 
"It means that as mothers leave their homes to earn money to maintain that 'higher standard of living' now considered so necessary, more places will be needed in which to dump the children they leave behind them."

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Imagine my surprise to encounter this attitude elsewhere in The Times' coverage of working women in 1957. A story by Times veteran writer Evelyn De Wolfe says that American working women "are primarily concerned with meeting the 'cost of high living rather than the high cost of living.' "

I will leave further exploration of these stories to someone working on a dissertation in women's history. There's lots of fertile material.

Here's a final quote from the "Womanpower" story:

"Uncle Sam seems to be the only one who is insisting that the child's welfare is more important than an augmented family income. Women in the armed services are permitted to marry but they are given a general discharge as soon as it is discovered they are pregnant."

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Bonus fact: The Times did away with its Women of the Year awards in 1977, deciding that "a women-only awards program [is] unnecessary in today's world."

 
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