In June 1961, after applying to Harvard’s graduate program in city planning, Phyllis Richman received a letter from Harvard asking her exactly how she planned on having a career and a family.
You see, Phyllis’s admission seemed like a waste of time to the admissions office. William A. Doeble, a professor in the department to which she had applied, wanted to make sure that she really wanted to put all of the time and money into an education that they felt she may never use when she was already so busy being a wife.
In his letter to Richman, Doeble wrote:
“[F]or your benefit, and to aid us in coming to a final decision, could you kindly write us a page or two at your earliest convenience indicating specifically how you might plan to combine a professional life in city planning with your responsibilities to your husband and a possible future family?”
Apparently Richman’s status as a married woman jeopardized her admission to her graduate program, which did not sit well with her at all. She discussed these issues in person with Doeble in 1961, but never responded in writing as he has requested.
Upon finding the letter, she decided to respond this week — 52 years late! — to Doeble and Harvard in writing in the form of an op-ed piece for The Washington Post, where she had been a restaurant critic for many years.
“At the time, I didn’t know how to begin writing the essay you requested. But now, two marriages, three children and a successful writing career allow me to, as you put it, “speak directly” to the concerns in your letter.”
Her response is pretty great and shows that her career still mattered, even when nobody else seemed to think it did.
Check out Doeble’s original letter and Phyllis Richman’s full response at over at the Washington Post.
[Image of retro housewife via Shutterstock]