The San Francisco Examiner ran this story on July 9, 1950, and some anonymous (but intrepid!) historian saved it. Hey, heroically preserving the past — your past.— is what historians do everyday.
OK, anyway…the story, as you can see, is about an express agent for Railway Express Agency in Oakland, California , named Margaret Garvey. The news value, at least in 1950, was “a woman doing a man’s job” — a contradiction in those days. (Today, of course, there is only “a worker doing a job.”) In 1950, U.S. culture was smack in the middle of that perception of women’s weakness , even after they had taken a critical and heroic labor role in World War II . The sensibility of the times — the zeitgeist — was that a woman’s proper place was in the home.
So the story about Garvey has a tone of amusement, but closer examination reveals two key skills in her work: Margaret manages the office, and she’s unflappable as a salesperson. The article tells that she got the job as Agent, and in the middle of the Great Depression to boot.
The article also emphasizes Garvey’s work after hours in civic causes — she’s in charge there, as well. Garvey uses every interaction to push the business, and it’s in that regard that feminism emerges. (That’s feminism as Movement , and feminism as state of being , for you linguistic turn fans out there.) She doesn’t shrink from interaction, and doesn’t demur to men just because women were “supposed” to. Alternately, Garvey used her position as a woman to start a conversation that most men, she figured, neither expected nor would resist.
Margaret Garvey was in charge of selling her business and making the operation run effectively. Any small business operator will tell you that’s the element of work: selling the goods and keeping track. This story is cool because Garvey used the “subordinate” position of women at that time to place herself in a principal position.
That’s not just clever — that’s success. Historic success!