Susan Elliott grew up in St. Louis in the middle of the 20th century. In the '50s she headed off to Smith College, and she graduated in 1958.
"I went to the college counselor and said, 'There's got to be a job in this country—somewhere—that I do not now have to go to typing school for,' " she recounted to me.
In fact there was: At the time, IBM was actively recruiting women and they had recently opened up a regional training center back home in St. Louis. This was fortuitous. "In those days," she says, "you didn't dream of going to New York and getting an apartment with other women. You went home, if you weren't getting married."
IBM had Elliott complete some tests to make sure she had the analytical and logical abilities that they needed. "I passed the test, which I had expected I would do," she says. She started at IBM in the fall of 1958 as a programmer.
Three years later, she married Howard Elliott Jr., whom she'd had a crush on since she was 14. "It took me ten years to reel him in," she clucks. By 1966 she was pregnant with her first child.
This was a problem. Many companies in those days were skittish about the liability of having a pregnant woman in the office. "IBM's policy was to send you home at six months because you were so fragile. You couldn't possibly work for that last three months," she says sarcastically. "That wasn't acceptable to me because, one, I loved what I was doing, but, two, Howard was recently out of law school and we needed me to work."