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Women at Argonne in the Mad Men Era

Here’s a bit of Mad-Men-era fun: a page from a 1960 employment manual for Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), courtesy of Kawtar Hafidi and ANL’s wisttalk mailing list, on which I lurk. (I hope they don’t throw me off the list when they see this.) Employees, the manual states, are allowed to work overtime, but if they expect to work more than 60 hours in a week, they’ll need to make arrangements with the Business Manager’s office first. That’s the rule for employees.

Having laid out the rules for employees, the manual moves on to a separate category, female employees. Read on, and click on the image below to view a larger, easier-to-read version:

Screen shot 2011-02-16 at 12.57.07 PM.pngI’d love to know how many women Argonne employed on the scientific staff in 1960 and what working there (or at any national lab) was like for them.

7 comments on “Women at Argonne in the Mad Men Era”

  1. buzzsawmonkey says:

    Instead of just shooting your mouth off, why not speak to people who were at Argonne in the Sixties—both male and female? There are still a number who are alive, and who could satisfy your curiosity.
    Also, before you start in with your sniggering speculation about how terrible sexism was in those bad ol’ days, why not clarify whether the manual you are referencing applies to office staff or scientists? The limitations in the manual which you reproduce were probably designed to protect a non-unionized office staff from being asked to work overtime indiscriminately, and almost certainly did not apply to any female scientist who was running an experiment.

  2. James Austin says:

    Are you suggesting that it’s OK to treat female office staff differently than men, but not female scientists? What’s your rationale?

  3. mg says:

    In 1960, there were laws that did not allow women to work as long as men.
    I know of someone who worked as a manager at a department store in 1964 and she said they had to classify her as a man so that she could work longer hours.
    Presumably, the laws were there to “protect” women.
    Whether women wanted them or not.

  4. James Austin says:

    Thanks mg. No offense was intended to ANL; I’m sure they were no worse than anyone else, and probably better than most. I’m sure they meant well.

  5. buzzsawmonkey says:

    James Austin asks: Are you suggesting that it’s OK to treat female office staff differently than men, but not female scientists? What’s your rationale?

    I’m suggesting that you find out what you’re talking about before you shoot your mouth off—something you clearly haven’t done.
    Female scientists at Argonne in the Sixties worked on the same terms their male counterparts did; if they were running an experiment, they stayed until the experiment was complete.
    If you’re talking about non-scientists, you are probably talking about clerical support staff; secretaries, clerks, and the like, who—like it or not—were almost certainly largely female, and whose work would have been overwhelmingly 9-5. There would have been no women, or virtually none, working in the machine shop or as technicians; that was not the way employment worked fifty years ago. The specs for male employees would have covered the machinists and technicians, not the office staff.
    There would also have been no public-sector union that the female support staff would have belonged to. Under the presumption that these women had a) a family life, or b) a social life, or c) interests to be protected, or some combination of the preceding, restricting the amount of overtime that they could be compelled to take was a matter for their own protection—especially since in the normal course of things the support staff would only be working 9 to 5.
    That you are trying to make some big thing out of “the bad old days,” or something, without the remotest clue as to what life was like fifty years ago, is offensive in the extreme.

  6. Babaloo says:

    Wow, looks like this article brought what looks to be the former HR director of ANL out from under the rock. And he is GRUMPY.

  7. Sue Mathewson says:

    For heavens sake, why so discourteous? “Shoot your mouth off?” … Only the rules were given without comment. … Having gotten $55/week in 1957 when the ‘men’ got $62/week in identical jobs, because they were going to support a family some day, I can attest to the discrimination, which I might add was accepted by all. Only in later years did I understand how unfair that was. Actually, they weren’t the bad old days, just different. … Lighten up.

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