On Education and Careers
January 1, 1935 – Purdue University’s First annual career conference, Purdue University, West Lafayette IN
Mrs. Woodhouse apologized last evening for ending her talk on “Why Women Fail in Business.” I shall begin mine today by linking what seem to be education’s failures in regard to careers. By the way, I use the word career because no one can tell when just a job will suddenly turn into one.
Through group discussion and individual conference three major faults seem to dominate:
I. Education does not start soon enough to discover aptitudes or to help the individual analyze what he is best able to do.
II. Education fails to bridge the gap between training and the practical aspects of employment.
III. Education is making very little effort – certainly it is not leading the way – in remedying the present economic situation in which neither the ability to work, the desire to do so, nor the necessity for having a job, will provide one.
I might add one more unfortunate habit in education – that is personifying courses like sailors who always refer to their ship as she, so schoolmen have courses which they allot to men or women. I have been doing battle with [illegible]. It is a quaint conceit but should be abandoned now. As should the equally odd one which is not often practical on [illegible] hangs over your head [illegible] you love your job.
When a college officer tells me the institution with which he is connected places 65% of its graduates in business, I always wonder about the remaining 35%. Who helps them find jobs? What do they ultimately do? It seems to me they and their problems should be more the responsibility of educators than the 65% who march off the campus direct into offices. Colleges cannot go on forever welcoming freshman classes before the line of last year’s graduates has disappeared into industry. Someone will have to sit down and find a means of speeding the absorption rate, and there, I believe, women’s influence may be helpful. I do not mean women will necessarily think out what should be done, but by appearing to glut the job market, if you will, they will force a solution. As you know, the world will not invent a substitute for gasoline until the supply of natural oil is exhausted. Just so, economic problems remain unsolved until man is faced with an issue he simply cannot avoid any longer. Technological unemployment is one of thine, not solvable by [illegible].
My talk today will be a brief summary of what some of the students at one university think of jobs and careers as shown by a questionnaire which Dr. O’Shea and I asked the women of Purdue to fill out. I shall try to make the questions plain as I read the results.
You will be interested to know that 92% of all who answered planned to work after leaving college. 7% were undecided. The reasons given for seeking employment were first, not economic necessity as you might suppose, but to achieve professional success (to have the mental stimulus of accomplishing something); second, to attain personal independence; and third, because of economic necessity. These results are very interesting, since women as a whole have not had enough experience to know the joy of independent work as men know it. Aviation has given me much. All too often women have had to bury what they had of the creative in routine tasks which have not brought them even the reward of a little spending money of their own.
I was surprised that the freshmen had such definite ideas on the subject of personal independence, so I looked farther into their case. What do you suppose I found? Dividing the class into those who had earned money and those who had not, I discovered the non-earners evidently did not like their dependent state for they voted more strongly than any other group for personal independence. I do not know whether that is because allowances have been cut, or because Christmas is coming, or because this year’s freshmen have been suppressed at home and are throwing off the yoke of something or other in the questionnaire.
About what to do, 54% have decided, 36% are undecided, and 6% do not know. Dividing by classes, only 40% of the freshmen know when they come to college what they would like to do. That is a large proportion, I think considering how little education does along the way to help the student trace his talents or analyze his desires. However, 90% of the senior class who answered have decided what they are going to do. Whether they really want to do, what they think they will do, or whether they are going to do what they are going to do because they do not wish to waste the preparation they have already made here, I have no way of telling. From the indecision of the other classes, I can image some seniors reasoning this way, “Well, here I am a senior. I have spent more than three years at college trying to decide what I really wanted to do, and I still am not sure. However, I like what I have specialized in pretty well, so I think I will just go on into that field and hope for the best. Anyway, all the time I have put in it at college won’t be wasted.” This may not be the case with the majority, but it looks as if it might be applicable to some, when one finds that 52% of the freshmen are indefinite about what they want to do; 40% of the sophomores are indefinite; 30% of the juniors; but only 5% of the seniors – a drop over the summer vacation of 25%. Sometimes I think extracurricular activities help in deciding what one wishes to do as much as regular courses. Photography.
Four-fifths of the whole group chose the work they are in because of liking for it. And there I slipped up, and that result may not be accurate. I should have asked on the questionnaire in which school each student was enrolled. For sometimes familiarity with a subject, generates a liking for it, especially in contrast with subjects never tested. Thus, the individual might feel that she liked home economics because of familiarity with its basic principles, yet it might not be the field of her real aptitude. So boys often choose engineering because they have hung around the corner garage and know something of automobile engines, where perhaps they should be farmers.
The fifth question was, “If you were the wage earner and your husband ran the home, would you consider his work financially equivalent to yours?” 67% said yes, 33% said not. It is very difficult to think out honest reactions to that state of affairs, but I wonder if the wife of today would not soon think her husband had the easier task. Imagine yourself, every one of you who answered the question affirmatively coming home from a long day’s work and saying to your husband, “Well, my dear, what did you do today?” “Oh,” he would reply, “I washed the dishes, dusted, planned the meals, made a cake, and was just going to do some ironing, when Mr. Jones came by on his way to market. He asked me to go along, so I did, and bought some new towels. Then I called up Mary’s teacher and told her she was marking Mary too low in arithmetic. Then I fed Junior, and dinner’s ready now.” The only estimate I have ever heard on the value of a housewife’s services, just as a housewife, mind you, is that Dr. Estey gave, $500 a year. Whether correctly calculated or not, it is a figure worth thinking about, particularly when one contrasts what a modern housewife does with the weaving and candle dipping, and so forth, which our great had to do. Evidently work for the majority is only a temporary expedient, for only 21% planned to continue after marriage. As to opinions on whether women in general should work after marriage, only 13% said yes. (Where oh where has the personal independence disappeared?) The reason most frequently given for working after marriage was that a woman needs continuous activity as does a man. The reason for not working was that working would interfere with administering the home. Again, I know it is very hard to look ahead and see yourselves as married women of forty, with your children away at Purdue, your husband busy with his work, and you with no particular interest but the four walls of a home. My hope is that none of you who decided so positively that women should under no circumstances work after marriage will not be victims of your present outlook.
The advisability of married women’s working when there were small children was emphatically disapproved of, as only 2% were for it. But after the children were over sixteen, 39% said it was quite alright to work, if one wished. In this the freshmen and sophomores were the more conservative, and the juniors and seniors more liberal.
I realize these home and marriage questions are the hardest to think out. Looking back, I cannot remember what I would have said had anyone tried such a questionnaire on me at your age. Let us consider some of the points you should have thought about whether you did or not. First, when you say married women should not work when there are small children, you imply these can best be cared for by their mothers, in the majority of cases. I wonder if that implication should be accepted without question. Of course, becoming a parent does not necessarily make one a good parent. I am sure had I a child, I should want him to have the best of care and training so I should send him to the best nursery school I could find. Why should I wait until later to give him the advantages I am not trained to give? It is probable that the mother who sends her children to nursery school sees as much of them as she would, were they at home. For, if the parents are well to do, there are nurses and maids to care for the children for hours at a time, while mother goes shopping, or calling, or plays bridge. If the parents are poor, and the mother must care for the house as well as the children, of course, she sees even less of them, for she is so busy, herself. She is likely to solve her problem by saying to her five year old son, “Now Johnnie, you go into the dining room to play, and take little sister with you. Mother is very busy.” Then she bustles about the house and only looks in on the children when a sudden silence warms her they probably have the gold fish out of the bowl again. If they are restless and she is especially occupied, she probably scolds them for getting under foot – when they are not really at fault – and when father comes home, the little nest is in an uproar. Psychologists and even mothers, themselves, now recognize that too much parental attention is harmful to a child. Don’t misconstrue what I say into my advocating breaking up family life. Not at all, I simply some of the old.
So far we have been thinking about the children’s welfare. What effect would working after marriage have on women? Once women heard only that they belonged exclusively in the home. Social and economic forces prevented their questioning that dictum. Today, when the word career is everywhere, they are told what they have been doing through the centuries is their career. Should they accept that unquestioningly, or not? It is very easy and tempting to accept it, for by doing so, women gain a sense of accomplishment and a justification for accepting food, shelter, and new hats from their husbands, not matter how much or how little they do in their homes. May it not be very bad for women to settle back on that comfortable rationalization, content forever with their new name prowess? Work outside the home seems almost necessary for development, even if it is voluntary, as Mrs. Woodhouse suggested last night. But working for pay might be better still, as that gives a truer measurement of the individual outside the sympathetic circle of the home, a measurement women have been escaping a long, long time.
The last question was concerning the man’s part in the home. The vote was overwhelming for his taking an interest in it. I wonder if any of those who answered this way, thought about how that interest would have to be arouse, particularly if he never had anything to arouse it such as college courses in homemaking, and so on. Certainly, selecting lamp shades, planning menus, cleaning out the refrigerator, do not appear very interesting from casual observation. Wifely prattle will not arouse much genuine enthusiasm, either – any more than men’s discussion of machinery interests the woman who has not some knowledge of piston rings and spark plugs. I think if you wish your husband to be interested in the home he will have to do something about it.
There was a difference of opinion between those who had not and those who had earned money, concerning how much time the husband should devote to the home. Those who had not earned money were pretty lenient, but those who had earned, were more or less on to their men, and said very firmly they should do all they had time for, around the house.
A secondary answer to question 10 was the large vote for the husband’s taking an equal part with the wife in running the home, if both were employed outside.
This last reply may point a prophetic finger to what may be the ideal state, i.e., when both husband and wife earn and are jointly responsible for the home, (of course, with credit on the ledger for the wife who bears children). Economists sing of the happy days when everyone will work for his or her own living under such conditions. With proper distribution of work, the required period for earning the necessities of life would be but a few hours a day, and but six or seven years out of a lifetime. I cannot help thinking how different the answers to the questionnaire would have been, did those conditions exist today. May I hope the career conferences, of which this is the first at Purdue, may do their share in bringing on the ideal state, whatever it may be.
Source: MSP 9, The George Palmer Putnam collection of Amelia Earhart papers, Karnes Research Center, Purdue University Libraries.