An interesting historical employment document has been circulating on the web recently – a 1938 job rejection letter from Walt Disney Studios to an aspiring young female animator. It’s of interest because the reason for the candidate’s rejection is simply that the candidate was a woman, and as the letter states, “women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen.” The beautifully preserved letter on vintage letterhead goes on to say that the work is performed entirely by young men, and therefore, “girls are not considered for the training school.”
For related documents that depict the role of women in the workplace, see our posts on the 1943 Disney Handbook and Danger: Women at Work, a WWII era training clip.
In fairness to Disney, job discrimination against women was the order of the day 75 years ago … in fact, a lot more recently than that. Employment listings were routinely categorized as “male” or “female” jobs and a job candidate’s sex was routinely used as a reason for rejection. In reading historic documents, sex discrimination was actually added to the EEOC as a “poison pill” that many thought might doom the legislation:
“…After all, the prohibition against sex discrimination had been added as a last minute amendment by Congressman Howard Smith of Virginia who opposed the civil rights legislation and thought that Congress would reject a bill that mandated equal rights for women.
Indeed, most supporters of Title VII initially opposed the Smith amendment because they, too, thought that it would doom the legislation. The amendment stayed in because female members of Congress argued that there was a need to protect equal job opportunities for women. Congresswoman Katherine St. George of New York argued that she could think of “nothing more logical than this amendment” and that while women did not need any special privileges “because we outlast you, we outlive you, . . . we are entitled to this little crumb of equality.” The need for this “little crumb of equality” was dramatically illustrated by the unexpectedly large number of sex discrimination charges filed in that first year.”
For more on job discrimination and the early years of laws prohibiting such discrimination, see the EEOC’s 35th Year Anniversary 1965-2000