June 11, 2013

Regarding Phyllis Richman’s June 9 Outlook commentary, “Dear Prof. Doebele”:

In the late 1960s, I went to Middlebury College in Vermont to meet with an admissions representative. As the top French student in my high school, this was my dream school. At Middlebury, the admissions counselor looked over my paperwork and told me that I was a strong candidate for admission, but cautioned: “Do not apply for a scholarship.” When I replied that I could not attend without one, he explained that investing in a woman would not be as beneficial for the university as investing in a man, since the female student would only be working for a few years until she started a family.

Like Phyllis Richman, I was intimidated by the admonition. I left Middlebury that day and never looked back, not even completing the full application. I have had a very fulfilling family life, being happily married for 32 years with two wonderful grown children, and I have had, and am still having, a very rewarding career in my chosen field. I even received an Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award from The Post in 2007. Thank you, Ms. Richman, for telling it like it was.

Colleen Dykema, Arlington

Phyllis Richman’s excellent piece about women’s opportunities in times past reminded me of the difficulties many of us faced in trying to use our education in the working world. Back in the 1950s with a master’s degree in international education, I managed to get a secretarial position overseas with the federal government. After returning with my husband, whose military career took him to Washington, I worked my way up the federal government ladder to research assistant in what was then called the Office of Education. As I reviewed recommendations for fellowships, it was common to read remarks from professors such as “she is one of my best students but she will doubtless marry and have children and waste the training you might give her.”

When I finally was promoted to assistant to the head of a division, his first question to me was “Can you take shorthand?” When I said I couldn’t, he retorted, “Well, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you then.”

Grace I. Krumwiede, Falls Church

Phyllis Richman’s experience in the 1960s was anything but unusual. I had a similar experience at two universities, but I got some support from women that should be noted. In my junior year at Purdue University, I got married. When my marriage was discovered, I had a scholarship withdrawn. I set up an appointment to find out why, since I had a 4.0 grade-point average. I was told that now that I was married, I could drop out and support my husband, who also was a student at Purdue. I went to the dean of women, who was active in the National Organization for Women. I had my scholarship back in 20 minutes.

Linda Rieger, Potomac

Phyllis Richman’s Outlook commentary reminded me of my experience with the Boston University philosophy department: In 1971, I was interviewed for a job as an assistant professor; until then there had been no female faculty. I was the leading candidate, I was told, and so was invited for a second round of interviews. All the questions were about my personal life; none about philosophy. I was asked, among other things, whether my husband approved of my working, and what I would do if one of my children got sick. In the end, I wasn’t offered the job. Instead they gave a one-year slot to a famous British philosopher and opened a new search the following year. Of course I didn’t apply because I still had the same children as I’d had the previous year.

I went on to have a distinguished career in liberal arts colleges, including the presidency of one (Antioch College). But I wonder what my career would have been if I’d started at a major university like Boston.

Joan Straumanis, Arlington

It is unfortunate that in his response to Phyllis Richman, William A. Doebele Jr. did not affirm her accomplishments despite the challenges that Harvard University and he placed in her way. Instead, he defended his 1961 letter as an opportunity to enlighten her about the challenges she would face in pursuing her dreams. It is also disappointing that Mr. Doebele views that conditions for women in city planning today are simply more “accommodating.” For women of my generation, that buzzword conjures up memories of second-class citizenship. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Lucia C. Biederman, Naples, Fla.