Thanks to Rachel Rifkin, who encouraged Margaret Paul to share this story:
I was born in 1939 and my father went off to fight in WWII within a year after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I lived out in the country in upstate New York with my mother, two brothers, my mother’s sister Alice, and her son and daughter. There were so few people in the area that the electric company did not put in electricity until after the War. But I remember a time of neighbors working together to survive. A lot was expected from us children contributing to where I got my drive.
My father instilled in me that I could do anything. I worked with him to build a garage; sawing, hammering, climbing ladders. He wanted all his children, including me, to go to college. However, my high school guidance counselor (a woman) discouraged me because we were poor. She said it was more important for the boys. My mother also felt I should be either a secretary (so I could meet and marry my boss) or a nurse (so I could meet and marry a doctor). My father would not hear of it. It was he who encouraged me and helped me believe in myself.
I attended SUNY at Albany, NY and majored in Mathematics with a minor in Physics and Chemistry. I taught mathematics in upstate New York public schools for four years. Then I went to work at the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) where I worked on missile design and landing force support. It was there I developed an equation for determining the maximum number of small spheres that can be packed in cone-shaped containers of varying dimensions. While there, my supervisor said what he really needed was someone to write computer programs for using this equation and plotting the outcomes. So he gave me Fortran books and said it was easy. He was a very intimidating man so I meekly said OK and, thus, started my career in the software engineering industry. I succeeded in providing him with the program he wanted.
I always seemed to be a woman in a man’s world. While at CNA, I found that men were paid more for the same job (and less experience). In fact, one boss bragged how he liked to hire women. They worked harder and better but were a lot cheaper. Also, women workers could not receive maternity benefits from the insurance company. They were terminated from work 6 weeks before the due date. (Needless to say I and my doctor lied about the due date.) However, the wife of a male worker (even if his wife had a baby the day he started work) got maternity benefits. I fought for more equal pay and for the same insurance benefits. We managed to get the policy changed but after the birth of my daughter. This was my introduction to fighting for women’s rights.
While living in Virginia, I was a delegate from Charlottesville to the state convention to promote the passing of the Equal Rights Amendment. Unfortunately, it failed to pass.
At Electric Boat in CT, I was the first woman analyst in a technical field and it proved to be a tough job. They built submarines and it was very much a blue collar atmosphere. When I first went there, the engineers would hang up on me. One said “You’re a woman. What do you know about building submarines?” I called him back and replied: “I may not know a lot about building submarines but I know a hell of a lot about developing programs. So with both our knowledge combined, we can resolve this problem.” After I resolved a problem in two weeks that no male analyst had been able to resolve in two years, I won another battle for women. From there, I went on to manage the software application department at a nuclear power plant under construction and then to the aerospace industry. During this time, I also raised my daughter as a single parent. I saw great strides made in the industry for equality for women. I was happy I could be a role model for others along the way.