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No. 952:
Class of '65

Today, a disturbing visit to the class of 1965. The University of Houston's College of Engineering presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.

Forbes magazine has just done an article on the Harvard Business School's class of 1965. Eight women finally broke the Harvard gender barrier in 1963. All eight finished their MBA's in '65. Considering that some 190 male members of the class did not finish, that was a remarkable showing.

Of course, they'd been carefully hand-picked. When Harvard integrated women into its MBA program, it didn't intend to fail. Now Forbes looks up those pioneers to see how they've fared.

The first woman admitted was Elaine Luthy, fresh out of Stanford. A Boston Globe headline shouted, "Blond Bomb for Harvard." She shrugged that off and finished her degree. Then she found a PR job with Eastern Airlines. But, she says, she couldn't buy into the values around her. Things went downhill. She finally gave it up to do a doctor of divinity degree. Today she runs a book-indexing service out of her apartment in Manhattan.

The eight women got their first wash of cold water during job interviews after graduation. It was clear that interviewers had not come to hire women. Lynn Sherwood tells about interviewing:

They were polite, ... but you knew it was futile. They asked questions like, "How do we know we won't train you and then you'll get married and have kids?"

Sharon Baum used only her initials when she signed up. She says:

The guy was so taken aback that you could get all your points across before he could ask those stupid questions.

One woman became the editor of a trade magazine, then died at 42. Only two followed straight career paths. The rest fought losing battles with social expectations and corporate values.

So I look at pictures of the seven survivors -- women around fifty with good, confident faces -- faces with a dimension of contentment. After all, these were the best and brightest of 1965. They had the intellectual and emotional means for coping with an imperfect world. They were better equipped than most to forge fruitful lives despite galling frustrations.

All this drives me to reconstruct what we thought back in 1965 -- what we took for granted -- our ideas about gender roles, justice, and social equity. And I wonder what my sons will be saying about their own attitudes in the '90s when they're my age. Will the '90s also look like a stone age? They could.

Dana Linden, writing for Forbes, says that job opportunities have opened up, but society hasn't eased any of the pressures it lays upon women. The choices have become, if anything, harder to make. Today women are finally allowed to shape themselves to a male world. But change won't be complete until we also change the gender of that corporate world to match the people in it.

I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston, where we're interested in the way inventive minds work.

(Theme music)

Linden, D.W., The Class of '65, Forbes, July 4, 1994, pp. 92-98.