March 25th, 2012:


Los Angeles Times - built in 1935


The fascinating TV series “Mad Men” –the Madison Avenue advertising game in New York City in the 1960s—begins its new season tonight. It reminds me of women’s struggles to rise in the world of business.

When I graduated from college in those years, not many doors of opportunity were open for women. A woman’s choice, for the most part, included almost any job where you typed and/or answered the phone. We called it Secretary then, commonly expanded to: Administrative Assistant. Becoming a teacher was a popular choice and a female could always choose medicine—as a nurse or nurse’s assistant.

Evident in this TV show is the lack of female copywriters; at least Peggy breaks the mold. In real life, author Jane Maas was one of a very few copywriters on Madison Avenue and she loved her job. She’s written a book about it: Mad Women. She mentions that women wore gloves (I recall wearing them to church) at the agency and high heels, of course. Oddly, she said that once a woman became a copywriter, she would wear a hat in the office all day. Perhaps that was a modern way of crowning those with the talent and determination to secure such a position.   If you follow this link, keep going and look up Victoria Giraud to find my books.

The first job I had in Los Angeles was with the Los Angeles Times in 1965. I had a degree in English and I’d worked on my college newspaper for four years. The LA Times was not about to offer me a job as a reporter; they stuck me into the typing pool, a large room full of typewriters and underused barely challenged women. The best promotion was to become a Private Secretary for some white male bigwig.

I was easily bored in the secretarial pool, even though we were utilized as substitute receptionists and secretaries and got to escape typing pool bondage for short periods of time. The highlight that summer, although it was a tragedy, was the Watts Riots, occurring just miles away. Our 5th floor office was full of windows and we could see the smoke from the Watts’ fires.

I didn’t know it at the time, but there was a woman who was breaking newsroom barriers during those days. Her name was Dorothy Townsend; her obituary was in a recent  LA Times. Dorothy started in the so-called “women’s pages” in 1954, but in 1964 her persistence won her a position of first female staff writer to cover local news.

A former senior editor at the Times, Noel Greenwood, commented in the article that Dorothy was promoted in an “era when women were thought to be such delicate creatures that they were not fit for the challenges of hard news reporting and were consigned to the features section. I always remembered Dorothy as a heroine.”

Dorothy proved her mettle when she insisted she be sent as part of the team of reporters covering the Watts riots. Her stories became part of the award-winning coverage, which netted the Times the 1966 Pulitzer Prize.

As women have worked their way up the ladder of business and professional success, the world is becoming more balanced. Don’t you guys need some of that indefatigable female energy in your work force as well as in your personal lives? Vive la femme!





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