Meryl Streep made headlines this week for her “controversial” feminist speech while presenting an award to Emma Thompson at the National Board of Review Awards for her role in Saving Mr. Banks. Although the speech took some folks by surprise, for us, it was just another ovation worthy moment that showcased Ms. Streep’s regular feminist critique of Hollywood that she’s been speaking about for years.

In the speech, Streep called Walt Disney a “gender bigot” and referenced a 1938 job rejection letter sent from the company to a young woman animator seeking employment at the famed studio.

“Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that task is performed entirely by young men.” The letter starts off by telling young Mary Ford, “Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that task is performed entirely by young men. For this reason, girls are not considered for the training school.”

It goes on to explain that, “The only work open to women consists of tracing the characters on clear celluloid sheets with India ink and filling in the tracings on the reverse side with paint according to directions.”

And if that wasn’t enough, the woman who wrote the letter on the company’s behalf told Ms. Ford not “to come to Hollywood with the above specifically in view, as there are really very few openings in comparison with the number of girls who apply.”

BAM! Way to crush a young woman’s dreams.

The letter was discovered by Ms. Ford’s family after she passed away. Her grandson, Kevin Burg, posted it on Flickr in 2009 and it has since garnered over half a million views. “We discovered it and were surprised at how well it was preserved for being nearly 70 years old. The letter speaks for itself and it’s remarkable to note how times have changed since then.”

It really comes as no surprise to us that this letter exists and that there was rampant sexism at the Disney company in 1938, as that was likely the sentiment at most large companies at the time. But seeing the actual letter in print is a good reminder that although women have made significant strides in the last 75 years in regard to gender parity in the workplace, there is still more work to be done.

disney letter

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