33 years ago, a newspaper's discriminating classifieds

Marsha H. Nathanson

June 09, 1993|By Marsha H. Nathanson

WHERE were you in 1960?

I was 7 years old and in the second grade.

My world consisted of the street on which I lived. I had my school and my friends and my Barbie doll, and that was about it. I didn't read the newspaper, I didn't watch the news on TV, I had no concept of current events.

only brush with politics came one morning as I waited outside Howard Park Elementary School for the doors to open. I listened as some kids debated whether John F. Kennedy would be the next president. I didn't know who Kennedy was. I barely understood the notion of next president.

In 1960, politics was not part of my vocabulary.

Nor was discrimination.

I couldn't spell the word, much less use it in a sentence.

But in 1960, discrimination was very much a part of Baltimore. I was just too young to understand.

Growing up has changed that. I now read the newspaper and watch the news. I know about discrimination. I know about the man who was recently elected president of the United States, the one who models himself after Kennedy, the one who is working to eliminate discrimination.

But no amount of reading and learning prepared me for what I found at the library the other day.

Thumbing through the classifieds of old newspapers from 1960 -- not exactly everyday reading material -- I discovered just how segregated Baltimore used to be. What I found shocked me.

If you are my age or younger, it may surprise you, too.

Thirty-three years ago, the employment section was divided into two categories: "Help Wanted -- Female" and "Help Wanted -- Male."

The jobs for females ranged from barmaids and counter girls to secretaries and teachers. An executive secretary could earn $4,620 a year.

(This salary seems rather meager in 1993. To put things in perspective, 33 years ago chicken breasts were 59 cents a pound, a bottle of ketchup was 22 cents, and a ticket to the Lyric was $2.75.)

Businesses placed the following "Help Wanted -- Female" ads in The Sun of Sunday, July 17, 1960:

"Woman -- Mature, 40 to 55 years of age for secretarial work in x-ray department of hospital. Typing essential, shorthand not needed. 5 1/2 -day week. Write stating age, experience and salary expected."

"Woman -- To sew on mattress covers. Not over 35 yrs."

"Permanent position for lady 18-35."

"Counter Girls -- White. No exp. nec."

The jobs for males tended to be more professional (accountants, engineers, chemists, draftsmen), higher paying (an accountant could earn $6,250 a year), and less segregated. But there were exceptions:

"Man -- (Colored.) To work on used car lot. Must be exp. washer and simonizer. Steady work. Good pay."

"Young Man -- Married. For installment route. Will teach."

"Boys -- Summer Jobs. White. 14-18."

The housing industry posed another challenge. Prices seemed reasonable enough -- you could rent an apartment for $50 a month or buy a four-bedroom house in the suburbs for $21,000 -- but not all options were open to everyone.

Many of the classified ads for houses and apartments included the words "white" and "colored."

On East Chase Street, you could rent eight rooms and a bath for $23 a week -- but only if you were "colored."

You could have six rooms and a bath on North Patterson Park for $20 a week -- but only if you were "colored."

You could rent a house for $65 a month -- but only if you were "white."

You could buy a house -- but only if you were a "careful colored buyer."

And race wasn't the only discriminating factor.

On Liberty Road you could settle into a four-room-and-bath for $85 a month -- but only if you were "Gentile."

In 1960, there was something insulting for everyone in this newspaper's classifieds, be it age, gender, race, religion or marital status. Discrimination dictated where you belonged -- or didn't.

Today, there are laws prohibiting such blatant discrimination. Not that the laws are always strictly observed. But they do exist, and sometimes they work.

Reading the classifieds from 1960 has made me realize just how far we've come in fighting discrimination.

It has also made me realize how far we have to go.

Marsha H. Nathanson writes from Ellicott City.

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