When I started to get really serious about the internal struggles I was having about being a working mom, I would troll google for hours. I was convinced that a search engine would find a way to make me feel better about what I was feeling day in and day out. At first I played it off like I was still postpartum, but the truth is, being a working mom is hard stuff. It is not easy being away from my baby girl 9.5-10 hours a day (stupid drive time)!
During one of my google trolling sessions, I came across the most amazing article on Huffington Post’s Women section titled Harvard Admissions Letter From 1961: ‘Married Women Find It Difficult To Carry Out Worthwhile Careers’. I highly recommend you take the time to read this article and the linked posts to the original stories. For those of you who don’t have the time at this moment, let me summarize it for you.
A young woman applied to the Harvard Urban Planning Graduate Program back in 1961 and received a letter back from the admissions committee stating that she would need to explain how pursuing her education in this field would not interfere with her responsibilities as a wife and mother. The letter explained that after all the effort it would take her to achieve such a degree, she would feel it to be a wasted when in the end she would end up staying at home tending to her husband and possible future children.
Phyllis Richman never responded to the admissions officer but decades later found the original letter in a box and decided to respond to that admissions officer who still worked for Harvard University. You can read her reply here.
She gave me the courage to believe in myself and carry on. She was a pioneer in excelling in her career despite being told her brain wasn’t worth anything just because she would one day be a mom. Here are a few highlights from her response:
As you predicted, a “possible future family” became a reality five years after my husband Alvin and I married. When my first child was born, I took a break from employment and raised him — just as your first wife was doing full-time when we spoke in 1961. You may not remember, but she was the example you used to explain how wives’ education tends to be wasted. The problem, I suspect, was the narrowness of your time frame. Google tells me that your wife earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate, and built an impressive resume in research, conference planning and social action. Do you still think of her graduate studies as a waste of time?
Having children in my late 20s, while I was developing my career, and bartering for babysitting, carpooling and cooking made my life complicated — but also encouraged me to be resilient and flexible. (I even wrote a book on barter.)
I stayed at The Post for 23 years, sometimes running the Food section as well. Later, when life seemed slower with only one child at home — and divorced, with no husband to “be responsible to” — I added three novels to my task list.
To the extent, Dr. Doebele, that your letter steered me away from city planning and opened my path to writing, one might consider that a stroke of luck. I’d say, though, that the choice of how to balance family and graduate school should have been mine.
You go Phyllis! The choice of graduate school should have been yours! Phyllis was married at the time and I do believe she had a responsibility to discuss her career choices with her husband and make the best possible choice for her family. I would expect my husband to discuss an interest in graduate school with me as well. In a marriage you should consult the other member to make sure the family situation works for both of you.
I am grateful to exist in a time where I don’t have to be asked at an interview “so what will you do with your husband and daughter if you accept this job?” Perhaps the better question they should ask me is “how do you feel about the fact that I am going to pay you less because even in 2013 wages are not equal?”
I hope one day my daughter realizes that I did my best under the circumstances. I still desire to work less and spend more time with her and I hope one day that can be my reality. In the meantime, I can lead her by example and show her that even as a woman she can obtain and utilize a graduate degree!