Book | Excerpts

A Few Good Women in Their Own Words


Overcoming Barriers


Marina von Neumann Whitman
Marina Whitman graduated from Radcliffe and earned her PhD in economics from Columbia University in 1962. She became the first women to be named a member of the Council of Economic Advisors.


“I remember when I was graduating, one of the best employers was IBM which hired young liberal arts graduates for what they called computer engineers. They were really sales people with a little bit of training. It was a great job and the interview was going splendidly. I was first in my class and had this, what was by then, a very famous name in computer circles, von Neumann. Everything was going just great until he looked at  my left hand and said, ‘Oh, I see you’re engaged.’ And I said, ‘Yes.’  And he said, ‘Well, I am sorry. We have a policy. We don’t hire engaged girls.’”


Ruth M. Davis

Ruth Davis was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Maryland with a PhD in mathematics (in 1955). She helped design some of the earliest computers and satellites and went on to hold many scientific positions in the federal government.


“When I first started out, a woman considered herself lucky if she had a job in the area of science and engineering. I had a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. I had worked with IBM. . . .I knew a lot of the management. I inquired about getting a job. They said, ‘We have a policy not to hire women for technical jobs. Do you type?’ And I said no, I hadn’t taken typing on purpose because I didn’t want to end up being a typist.”


holmMajor General Jeanne M. Holm

Major General Jeanne M. Holm (1921– 2010), of the U.S. Air Force, made an extraordinary contribution to bettering the lives of women in the military. She was the first woman in the armed forces to be promoted to the rank of major general (1973), and this was only one of her many firsts.


“Society believed married women should not work. So when a military woman got married she was allowed to get out immediately, even encouraged. Even though a man who had had the same training as she was not allowed to. He had to fulfill his contractual obligation. But we would allow her to just leave, just because she was a married woman. If she became pregnant or married a man with children, she was forced out whether she wanted to or not.”



Marina von Neumann Whitman


ruth davis

Ruth M. Davis