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June 1949. The American Medical Association’s annual convention was held in Atlantic City, filling the run-down seaside town’s parking lots with out-of-state Cadillacs. One of the main events of the weekend was demonstrating a new tool for training doctors, medical color television, a futuristic-seeming replacement for the tiers of ringed seats of the traditional operating room surgical amphitheater. But TV was too poor a teaching substitute until color came along. After an elaborate luncheon was over, a spokesman for the manufacturer, Smith, Kline, and French, strongly suggested that the doctors’ wives leave the hall, as the live images would be very graphic.
To his surprise, most of the ladies stayed and watched, most of them impassively sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes. (I mentioned it was 1949, right?) Someone explained to the SKF man that the women were, or had been nurses, and had seen far worse. “They met their husbands on the job”. In 1949, that was as common a fact of women’s lives as hats, white gloves, and handbags. For women, getting ahead in life generally involved marriage, with the goal of marrying “up”. It had always been the way of the world.