In the late 1930s, 22-year-old Josephine Calavetta was working for Grant Photo Corporation, managing one of their many portrait photo studios in the New York City area. It was a job she landed right out of high school and she excelled at it, particularly in her role as a photographic colorist. But despite her superior talents and documented track record, she was denied a location transfer because, according to her employer, the studio she requested to go to could only be “operated by a man.”
In addition to taking photos, Josephine’s primary responsibility was to color the black and white portraits her studio shot of its customers. But that was long before the era of photoshop (and about a decade before colored film), so she had to make the magic happen all with her own two hands. At that time, hand-coloring was a prestigious job, involving meticulous work that required immense skill. Josephine would apply watercolors, colored oils, crayons or pastels, over a black and white image’s surface using brushes, her fingers, or cotton swabs.
The results had to be as flawless, as they were realistic, to satisfy Grant Photo’s discerning customers, and under Josephine’s care they always were.
So in August of 1939, the very capable and highly regarded employee requested a transfer to another one of the company’s photo studios – Studio #60 in Brooklyn. This is the actual letter Josephine received back from Mr. G.P. Grant Jr., himself…
GASP… yeah, we know. Now imagine receiving that letter today!
A little over a year later, in December of 1940, Mr. Grant received a glowing letter about Josephine from one of her customers, a Mrs. Kimball. This is Grant’s actual response letter to Mrs. Kimball…
Regardless of what Mrs. Kimball’s note said, or how accomplished and deserving Josephine Calavetta was, her transfer still never came through because she was still… just a woman.
Josephine left Grant Photo Corporation in 1941 to marry a man – Antonio Maneri – who did, in fact, have the utmost admiration and respect for the incredible woman she was.
Women’s History Month And The Everyday Woman
During Women’s History Month, as we celebrate all of the extraordinary pioneers who came before us and tirelessly campaigned for equality, bucked the system, and bravely did what they were told they couldn’t, we can’t forget the countless everyday women, like Josephine Calavetta, who, faced with daily and systemic inequality, struggled just to have the jobs or educations or lives they wanted for themselves, and rightfully deserved.
Let her story be a reminder of just how important equality is, not only for women, but for everyone, on both a micro and macro level, and how hard we must continue to fight for it.
Though passed over by her myopic employer as a young woman, Josephine (Calavetta) Maneri continued to excel her entire life. In fact, at age 94, she graduated Valedictorian of her senior class at the assisted living home where she happily lived out her days until her passing in 2012.
We are so happy to be able to honor her in this way, and thank her family, particularly her granddaughter and namesake Josephine Macaluso, an extraordinary woman in her own right, for allowing us to share her story.