Working Girl

My friend Phyllis Richman recently wrote the feature essay in the Washington Post‘s Outlook section. She had come across a letter from a Harvard professor dating back to 1961. William Doebele Jr., then assistant professor of the Graduate School of Design, asked Ms. Richman, a prospective student in urban planning, to rethink her application since marriage and family life would likely take a toll on her career, leading to “a feeling of waste about the time and effort spent in professional education.” More to the point, Professor Doebele asked, “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?”

Instead, Richman opted not to go through with her application to Harvard. But over the next several decades, she did manage to balance her home responsibilities and her professional aspirations. (She ultimately became the Post‘s longtime restaurant critic and a novelist, too.) Doebele was right in the sense that there’d be a strain and while Richman says she has zero regrets about her graduate studies, I have heard on occasion the lament: “Why study so hard when all I do is change diapers?” It feels like an eternity, but it passes. Kids do grow up and as Richman found out, you work around their schedules.

It isn’t be easy—Richman’s daily routine was daunting. But it does offer a glimmer of hope.

What astounded me was that Professor Doebele is still alive—and he replied to Richman’s letter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *