“Girls in Gray Flannel Suits”: White Career Women in Postwar American Culture



In 1949, Life magazine ran a profile of the Daly family’s four daughters, all bright young professional women who were earning a combined annual salary of more than $100,000. Ten years later, the magazine’s editors decided to re-visit the “career sisters” to see what had happened. Their finding: “The four sisters said they would and … they all made good.” After a decade that one sister summarized as “hard work, babies, and fun,” the women had all married, collectively had nine children, and were now pulling in over $200,000 combined in their four thriving careers. Marguerite, age 41, had progressed from modeling to producing television fashion shows. Kathleen, 39, had climbed up the ladder to the vice presidency of a New York advertising agency. Maureen, 37, had continued her career as an author. Sheila John, 31, had gone from being a newspaper writer to working as a feature columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Her articles now appeared in fifty newspapers nationwide.2


American Woman Married Woman Female Labor Force Participation Career Woman Feminine Mystique 
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  1. 4.
    The proportion of women of color employed held relatively steady at about 40 percent between 1890 and 1960. Stephanie Coontz notes that the oft-cited figures for the number of women working, in general, under-report the numbers of working women as the census did not count much paid work, such as working at home for wages, and that census figures did not count women working less than fifteen hours a week. Whatever calculations are used, however, the percent of white and married women in the labor force was quite low in the early part of the twentieth century. See Stephanie Coontz, The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap (New York: Basic Books, 1992), 156Google Scholar
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  3. Brett Harvey, The Fifties: A Women’s Oral History (New York: Harper Collins, 1953), 137.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    James Skardon, “Madison Avenue Career Girl,” Coronet 44: (October 1958): 146–153Google Scholar
  5. Molly Haskell, From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2nd edn, 1987).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 7.
    Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York: Basic Books, 1988)Google Scholar
  7. Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: Norton, 1963)Google Scholar
  8. Joanne Meyerowitz, ed., Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945–1960 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994).Google Scholar

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© Elspeth H. Brown, Catherine Gudis, and Marina Moskowitz 2006

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