International Womens Day is a good day to look at the work
of Elinor Ostrom the first women to win a Nobel Prize for
economics, she had to battle to become an academic in the 1950s and 1960s.
This is from her biographical paper 'A long polycentric journey'
Looking for a job in the 1950s as a female and
as a new college graduate was an “instructive”
experience. The first question in every interview
was whether I had typing and shorthand
skills. After working for a year as Export Clerk
in a Cambridge electronics firm, I finally landed
a position as Assistant Personnel Manager in a
distinguished Boston firm that had never hired
a woman for any position above secretary. I
volunteered to work for several months without
pay to convince them I could do the job.
That turned out to be unnecessary, but I still
had to prove myself repeatedly.
When I returned
to Los Angeles in 1957 and applied for
a professional position in the Personnel Office
at UCLA, I was greatly relieved to learn that I
had received a strong recommendation frommy
Boston employer. This was particularly gratifying
because I had been able to diversify the
firm’s staff, previously all white and Protestant
or Catholic, to include several new employees
who were black or Jewish.
While I was working in public personnel on
the UCLA campus, I thought I should obtain a
master’s degree in public administration. I took
one graduate seminar per semester for a year,
decided that I liked graduate work, and began
to think about pursuing a Ph.D.
Admission to the M.A. program on a parttime
basis had been routine, but admission
to a doctoral program and obtaining an assistantship
so I could pursue full-time graduate
study were far from routine. The graduate advisor
in economics strongly discouraged pursuit
of a Ph.D. in economics because I had so
little mathematics background (due to earlier,
poor academic advice), but he did approve of
an outside minor in economics if I pursued a
Ph.D. in political science. The graduate advisor
in political science strongly discouraged me
from thinking about a doctorate, given that I already
had a very good “professional” position.
He indicated that the “best” I could do with a
Ph.D. was to teach at some city college with
a very heavy teaching load. My earlier experience
with finding a professional position in
Cambridge led me to ignore this warning and
apply for an assistantship so I could pursue a
Ph.D. on a full-time basis. Fortunately, I was
granted an assistantship.
Surprisingly, the Financial Aid Committee
awarded four assistantships to women that year
after 40 years without a woman on the faculty or
as a Ph.D. student. The four of us learned midsemester
that this decision had been strongly
criticized at a faculty meeting. Some faculty
members were concerned that allocating four
out of 40 assistantships to women was a waste of
departmental resources. They feared that none
of us would obtain good academic positions,
which would harm the department’s reputation.