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From the Archives: A Working Woman in 1950

More than 50 years ago, being a "career woman" meant jobs in art and modeling and an income for clothes and dinner parties


From San Diego Magazine, April 1950

So many things professional women take for granted today were far from guaranteed 70 years ago. Having a job and raising a family? Unheard of! Choosing not to have children at all? Blasphemy! Showing up to work looking anything less than effortlessly perfect? Gasp!

Flipping through the pages of the April 1950 issue of San Diego Magazine serves as a useful reminder of how far we’ve come, even despite the inequalities that still exist in today’s workplace. In a feature on “San Diego Career Girls,” writer Doris Christman profiles “a new phenomenon”: young, unmarried women who are opting for a career instead of getting married right after college.

“This career woman in San Diego is, in general, preparing for marriage in from two to five years, and often she is filled with qualms about letting her chances, and the years, fly by,” Christman writes. “However, in typical women fashion, she is sure that when the right man and the right time comes along she will know it and either effect a satisfying blend of husband, home, and job, or let one of an ambitious younger flock take her place.”

Our cover story this month profiles women who are running the show in biotech, medicine, science, and government, but the career landscape looked a bit different in the ’50s. The article pinpoints jobs that “women seem best equipped to handle” thanks in large part to “her vanity and her good sense,” including advertising copywriter, personnel counselor, artist, and model. And while today’s woman may have her sights set on owning property, buying stocks, and investing in a startup, back then, Christman notes that all those pay stubs could go toward clothes, books, music, and “small apartments” that are “just right for small dinner parties.”

One of the women profiled in the story is Katherine Wueste, public relations and promotion director for Walker-Scott Department Store. Readers instantly get to know her as “that rare woman, an incisive, forceful, talented executive who is also a good-looking female.” We also get to meet Sibby Durant, a professional model and former Miss Kansas runner-up, and Betty Mae Marshall, 23, a “serious young advertising woman.”

While we still have plenty of glass ceilings to break, here’s one litmus test that’s a testament to progress: Try describing any woman today as these “career girls” were described in 1950. Then sit back and prepare yourself for the backlash.

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