Weight: 120. Height: 5’6 ½”. “Married? How long?” The options on the “Application for Employment (Women),” are: “Single, Engaged, Separated, Widowed, Divorced.” Another question asks “Number of Dependents and Relationship?” On this line, on Lynn Ferrin’s 1961 application to be an editor at a magazine published by the automobile club, someone in the employment office wrote, in red pencil, “No steady.”
On the “Supplement to the Application for Employment,” under the line for “Appearance: Posture, Dress, Neatness, Cleanliness, Physique” someone has described Ferrin as “Neat. Nicely groomed. Plain, intelligent face.”
When she discovered her male assistant was making more than than she was, she was told she was at the top wage level for women.
Fifty years ago this week, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act to abolish gender-based wage discrimination. Almost two years before, in June of 1961, Lynn Ferrin graduated from Stanford University with a master’s degree in journalism. (Before that, she was employed for a year at the Syracuse University Press as an editor.)
This past weekend I came across Lynn’s original job application as I went through some of her papers. (She was my first editor and mentor, and she died of cancer in 2011.) Although this document doesn’t address the wages Ferrin could and would earn, it’s worth a look back. Don’t miss “Telephone Check.” Hilarious—in hindsight—is that AAA seemed to only have applications for men. Each question uses “he” or “his”: “Did he follow instructions satisfactorily,” and “Was he dependable.” (And the eyebrow-raising: “How were his morals, personal habits, honesty?”) Lynn got the job, and worked as an editor for AAA’s Via Magazine for more than 30 years. For the last seven of those years, she was editor in chief.
When I found Lynn’s application, I called my mother, who reminded me that in the early 1960s she too held the title of editor in chief of a magazine in San Francisco. When she discovered her male assistant was making more than than she was, she was told she was at the top wage level for women. My mother, the magazine’s top editor, was classified as “Executive Secretary”—the highest position a woman could hold.
This past January, a bill called the Paycheck Fairness Act (originally from 2011) was re-introduced to Congress as H.R. 377.
Even though we all know that women were asked to supply information such as “Give name of Husband and where employed,” hindsight makes the words in ink jump off the page.