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Did your professors or friends encourage you in this endeavor or did they try to direct you to another field? I started at Bryn Mawr College intending to major in history, which I found fascinating--still do. Then, rather accidentally, I took first year economics in summer school at Indiana University, just because economics sounded like something one ought to know about. I lucked into a class with a superb young instructor, who got the whole class excited about economic ideas. This was the late Reuben Zubrow, who subsequently had a long career of distinguished teaching and research at the University of Colorado.
I decided that economics might be more useful than history, so I went back to Bryn Mawr and switched my major to economics. Economics was a small major at women's colleges in those days, so we got a lot of individual attention from the faculty. I wrote my undergraduate honors thesis on the economic integration of Western Europe, which was a pretty prescient topic choice in I even had a discussion of European monetary union!
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By then I was sufficiently hooked to be thinking about graduate school, but I went to Europe for a year first, where I had a junior job in Paris working on the Marshall Plan. What was it like to be a woman graduate student in economics at Harvard University in the 's? In particular, were women treated differently?
Harvard was having a hard time adjusting to the idea of women in the academy. Indeed, since I was already focused on policy, I applied first to the graduate school of public administration now The Kennedy School , which rejected my application on the explicit grounds that a woman of marriageable age was a "poor risk. They were just working up their courage to allow women to be teaching fellows and tutors in economics. I taught mixed classes, but initially was assigned only women tutees. One of my tutees wanted to write an honors thesis on the labor movement in Latin America--a subject on which one of my male colleagues had considerable expertise.
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He was willing to supervise my young woman if I would take one of his young men. However, the boy's senior tutor objected to the switch on the grounds that being tutored by a woman would make a male student feel like a second class citizen. People actually said things like that in those days! The second year that I taught a section of the introductory economics course, I was expecting a baby in March and did not teach the spring semester.
The man who took over my class announced to the class that, since no woman could teach economics adequately, he would start over and the first semester grades would not count.
It was an exceptionally bright class and I had given quite a few "A's," so the students were upset. The department chair had to intervene.
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In retrospect, the amazing thing was that the women were not more outraged. I think we thought we were lucky to be there at all. Outwitting the system was kind of a game. One of the university libraries was closed to women, and its books could not even be borrowed for a female on inter-library loan. I don't remember being upset. If I needed a book, I just got a male friend to check it out for me. What prompted you to go into policy work rather than pursue an academic career? I was always interested in policy. In fact, one of the things that attracted me to economics was its importance in improving people's lives.
So policy research was a natural for me. Fortuitously, I was offered a research fellowship at the Brookings Institution, which enabled me to finish my dissertation. I spent most of my career alternating between Brookings and various policy jobs in the federal government. Realistically, moreover, academic opportunities were limited for my generation of women graduate students. Most major universities did not hire women in tenure track positions.
Early in my career about , the University of Maryland was looking for an assistant professor in my general area.
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I was invited by a friend on the faculty to give a seminar and then had an interview with the department chairman. He was effusive in his praise for my work and said how sorry he was that they could not consider me for the position. I asked why not, and he said that the dean had expressly forbidden their considering any women. That wasn't illegal at the time, so we both expressed our regrets, and I left with no hard feelings.
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Senior Thesis… | Center for European Studies at Harvard University
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