Trailblazers: Women Leading Their Field

Today’s post is written by Laney Stevenson, Archives Technician at the National Archives at College Park.

In celebration of Women’s History Month and with the rousing collective movement for women’s rights and empowerment which has been reignited over the last year, it seems fitting to look back on past recognition of women for their achievements as both a mark of progress and means of appreciation for those that worked to pave a path toward equality and justice.

Through their professional accomplishments, the women featured below display their tenacity and drive to pursue vocations outside the realm of more traditional female career paths. These trailblazers exhibit the capacity for women to firmly establish a role in professions historically dominated by men, such as government and military, business and finance, and science and technology, while being particularly remarkable for taking place within the conservative climate of the 1950s.

These photographs are from the series Feature Packets with Recurring Subjects, 1953-1959, (NAID 1105040) in Record Group 306: Records of the U. S. Information Agency, Press and Publications Service. The text is taken from captions accompanying each image.


Blanch Wilcox stands by a plane.
Women in Aviation

Blanche Wilcox Noyes, chief of the air-routing marking branch of the U. S. Civil Aeronautics Administration, has been flying since 1928. Winner of several air races, she was named U. S. Woman of the Year in Aviation in 1954. Mrs. Noyes is the only woman federal executive flying government aircraft.

Martha Jack’s Thoughts are in the Clouds

As senior traffic control operator at the busy airport in Memphis, Tennessee, Miss Martha Jack is responsible for the safety of hundreds of travelers every day. Her job involves patrolling the airways from the ground by radar, radio and time-scheduling to prevent mid-air collisions and to guide pilots on instrument flying in bad weather.


U. S. Woman Builds a Career on Toys

Forty years of designing toys has not exhausted Mrs. Mary Phillips Rushton’s ideas nor her enthusiasm for the Rushton Company, which she founded and heads. Mrs. Rushton still designs all the stuffed dolls and animals turned out by her company, one of the leading toy makers of the United States.

She is shown here completing a working model of a piquant-faced head she has designed for one of her stuffed toys.

Communications and Entertainment

First Lady of U. S. Radio

Pauline Frederick, a journalist turned broadcaster, is the only woman news analyst on any national radio network in the United States. Since 1948 she has been covering the national conventions for both major political parties. Here she is shown in her role of “anchor man” during the 1956 conventions, a job in which she assembled, announced and analyzed the events which culminated in the nomination of presidential and vice-presidential candidates.

Career Girl in Television (1 of 3)

Ruth Levine’s first job at Columbia Broadcasting Company (CBS) was as secretary to a radio executive. From that start she has advanced steadily toward her goal of becoming a television producer. She is now one of three women who are program coordinators of television shows at CBS, one of the larger radio and television networks in the United States.

Career Girl in Television (2 of 3)

In the course of her various jobs with the Columbia Broadcasting Company, Ruth Levine learned about television operations although she was not working directly in that field. Here she is picking up some information in the art department. This knowledge helped her qualify for the job she wanted as a production assistant for television programs.

Career Girl in Television (3 of 3)

During dress rehearsal, Ruth stands outside the camera circle, observing closely how the program is shaping up in final form. Any necessary polishing or revision she will bring to the attention of the producer. Between this rehearsal and the actual telecast, two hours remain for changes to be made.

Anne Bauchens Cuts an Interesting Career in Movies

Anne Bauchens runs 35 millimeter film through a “Moviola” as one process in editing Cecil B. DeMille’s production of “The Ten Commandments.” For forty years Miss Bauchens has been DeMille’s film editor, the only person besides himself who has ever cut one of his pictures.

Home Economist Serves Public through Industry

Corris Guy, with her assistant, Stan Chambers, demonstrates the step-by-step preparation of a complete meal on her Los Angeles, California television cooking school. The program, presented twice a week, is the oldest TV show on the United States West Coast. As consumer research director for Helms Bakeries in Los Angeles, Miss Guy directs a staff that provides a varied program of service to Southern California homemakers and their families.


wall street001-apr57
Women in Wall Street

A growing number of women in the United States are participating in the ownership and operation of the American free enterprise system. The “leading lady” of Wall Street, financial hub of the nation, is Mrs. Charles Ulrick Bay, Chairman of the Board and President of the brokerage and investment firm of A. M. Kidder & Co. She is the first woman ever to head a leading member-firm of the New York Stock Exchange. Mrs. Bay is seen here standing before a quotation board on which stock prices are flashed as trading goes on at the Exchange.

Sylvia Porter – Financial Columnist

Sylvia Porter relies heavily on her library of more than 1,000 volumes for the news and background information in her daily newspaper column, “Your Money’s Worth.” Written in easy-to-understand language, it is syndicated in 171 papers in the United States. Miss Porter, who is one of the most respected experts in her field, is also the author of several books on consumer finance, editor of a technical newsletter, and frequent contributor to leading U. S. publications.

Government and Military

Women in the United States Congress

These sixteen women now serving in the 84th Congress of the United States hope to represent their constituencies again in the 85th Congress. All but Mrs. Margaret Chase Smith, the only Senator and the only incumbent whose term does not expire this year, will be candidates for re-election in November. Indications are that they will be joined by a record number of women candidates for national, state, and local offices. The incumbents, who represent 14 states and the Territory of Hawaii, are evenly divided between the two major political parties. All hold important committee assignments and help to shape as well as to vote on legislation affecting national and international affairs.

Seven of the women are widows of former Congressman, one is the mother of a Congressman, and four have had previous experience as members of their State Legislatures. Five are newcomers in the present Congress and one, Mrs. Edith Nourse Rogers, who is serving her 31st year, has a record equaled by no women and by few men.

Left to right: (front row) Edna F. Kelly, Cecil M. Harden, Edith Nourse Rogers, Katharine St. George, Frances P. Bolton; (second row) Edith Green, Coya Knutson, Senator Margaret Chase Smith, Elizabeth Kee; (third row) Leonor K. Sullivan, Iris Blitch, Gracie Pfost, Martha W. Griffiths, Marguerite Stitt Church; (last row) Mrs. Joseph R. Farrington, Ruth Thompson.

Women’s Branches of U. S. Defense Forces

….D. S. Gray (second from left) was sworn in, on January 20, … of Women in the United States Air Force. She is … heads of other women’s branches of the U.S. Military … to right, they are: Captain Louise Wilde, Navy; Colonel Julia Hamblet, Marines; and Colonel Irene O. Galloway, Army.

[Note: The caption on this photograph was partially cut off and the text is incomplete in several places.]


Trail Blazing Doctor

Dr. Jean Harris performs an ear examination on a young patient at the children’s clinic of the Medical College of Virginia at Richmond, Virginia. The 23-year-old was the first African American to graduate from the college and to serve as an intern in its hospitals. She has recently been named as the first African American to serve as a resident physician in one of the college-sponsored hospitals. The third generation of her family to enter the medical profession, Dr. Harris plans to enter private practice in Richmond when she completes her hospital residency.

Science and Technology

Young Woman’s Discovery Starts another Medical Advance

Mrs. Mary Ellen Brinkley, senior technician in the blood bank laboratory of Memorial Center for Cancer and Allied Diseases, says she cannot “get over the wonder of what goes on under a microscope.” As a result, medical researchers are pressing the investigation of her discovery that treatment of a patient with large doses of penicillin frequently creates antibodies in the patient’s blood that react against further penicillin injections. In some cases, it has been found, they attack red corpuscles, causing anemia in the patient.

Women are Successful Engineers

Dr. Martha Bergin is senior engineer in charge of the chemical laboratory of the lighting division of Sylvania Electric Products, Inc. Here she is shown at work in her laboratory. She holds one patent and has several more pending on processes she has developed. A member of the Society of Women Engineers, she is interested in encouraging young women with suitable qualifications to enter the profession.

Woman Engineer Forecasts Peaceful Uses of Rocket Research

Ruth Harlam, 33-year-old rocket engineer, is in charge of a special research project at the Greenwich, Connecticut laboratories of a large U. S. manufacturing company. In charge of 23 draftsmen and engineers at work on launching systems for short-range interceptor missiles, she believes that such research now being conducted for defense purposes holds the promise of a better and more peaceful world.