“Even conceding these points, such an appointee would not stay young and attractive for ever and later on could well become a problem.”

Via Letters of Note, Why Women Should Not Be Trade Commissioners. The following document was written in 1963 to the Director of Trade Commissioner Services as a protest against the possible appointment of a woman as an Australian trade commissioner.

Although the woman, Beryl Wilson, was later appointed, the Deputy Director of the Department of Trade and Industry (now DFAT) stressed that her appointment should not be treated ‘in any sense as a precedent.’

The Australian government has made the letter available here. Go to the cut below for a transcript of it.

I am absolutely fascinated that something like this could have happened as late as 1963; it feels like a relic from a time beyond current human memory, or from my grandparents’ era at the very earliest, but instead it was written while my parents were very much alive. In only 45 years, Australian (and American) culture has changed so much that the document not only reads like satire, but that if it were penned today, the writer would most likely be fired for it.

In particular, I love how the letter frankly states that the only woman who could possibly-maybe-conceivably-potentially be of any remote use is a “young and attractive one,” but because she will turn into a nasty old battleaxe eventually, that could be a problem.

Also interesting from the letter is point vi, “If we engaged single graduates as trainees, most of them would probably marry within five years”, is a reference to the Public Service Act 1901, which prohibited married women from working in Public Service. (See for instance Ruby Payne-Scott, one of the early developers of radio astronomy, who worked for the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organization until her secret marriage was discovered and she was discharged.) The Australian Federal government did not repel the marriage bar until 1966.

My favorite line (that is, aside from the absolutely amazing “battleaxe” comment) is this one: “It is difficult to visualise them as Trade Commissioners, firstly because they could not mix nearly as freely with businessmen as men do. Most mens clubs, for instance, do not allow women members[.]” It forthrightly recognizes that such men’s-only spaces are a barrier to women in the work place — which is itself correct, though of course the letter writer draws the conclusion that this means women should go and that the discriminatory institutions should remain.

Click here to see a transcript of the letter