No Women Need Apply: A Disheartening 1938 Rejection Letter from Disney Animation

Disney Letter

Put your­self in the mind of an artis­tic young woman who goes to see Dis­ney’s Snow White and the Sev­en Dwarfs when it first opens in 1937. Cap­ti­vat­ed by the film’s ground­break­ing cel-based cin­e­mat­ic ani­ma­tion, under­stand­ing that it rep­re­sents the future of the art form, you feel you should pur­sue a career with a stu­dio your­self. Alas, in response to the let­ter of inquiry you send Dis­ney’s way, you receive the terse rejec­tion let­ter above. “Women do not do any of the cre­ative work in con­nec­tion with prepar­ing the car­toons for the screen,” it flat­ly states, “as that work is per­formed entire­ly by young men. For this rea­son girls are not con­sid­ered for the train­ing school.” Your only remain­ing hope? To aim low­er on the totem pole and become an “Inker” or “Painter,” but “it would not be advis­able 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.”

Times have changed; women now cre­ate ani­ma­tion. But to catch a glimpse of the indus­try in decid­ed­ly pre-changed times, revis­it the 1939 pro­mo­tion­al doc­u­men­tary short How Walt Dis­ney Car­toons Are Made. In it, you’ll see these very young men hard at work, as well as those “pret­ty girls” hired to do ink­ing and col­or. Pre­war Dis­ney turned out some mas­ter­pieces, no doubt, but by today’s stan­dards their atti­tudes toward gen­der may leave some­thing to be desired. “This let­ter orig­i­nal­ly belonged to my grand­moth­er,” writes the user who dis­cov­ered the note above. “After she passed away we dis­cov­ered it and were sur­prised at how well it was pre­served for being near­ly 70 years old.” Young women like her, aspir­ing to high places in ani­ma­tion, found them­selves forced to find alter­nate routes in, although after receiv­ing that rejec­tion let­ter on that sta­tionery — embla­zoned with Snow White her­self, adding insult to injury — I would­n’t blame them for look­ing into oth­er fields entire­ly.

via Soci­o­log­i­cal Images & Mefi

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Walt Dis­ney Car­toons Are Made

Don­ald Duck Wants You to Pay Your Tax­es (1943)

Walt Dis­ney Presents the Super Car­toon Cam­era (1957)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

by | Permalink | Comments (12) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (12)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Votre says:

    Not that it was ever accept­able for Dis­ney to behave in such a man­ner. But it’s also worth keep­ing in mind that look­ing at any­thing with the 20–20 hind­sight of cur­rent social mores is bound to make much in the past look rather bad by com­par­i­son.

    The impor­tant thing is to hold what occurred as a remain­der, and a warn­ing, of what can hap­pen if we don’t look too close­ly at what we con­sid­er accept­able behav­ior towards oth­ers.

  • RichStine says:

    Nowa­days, there would not be such delib­er­ate and obvi­ous prej­u­dice behind the rejec­tion let­ter.
    Instead, the lit­tle lady would be informed she is tal­ent­ed, and appre­ci­at­ed for her inter­est as a poten­tial team member/artist, but the com­pa­ny needs have been already met. Bet­ter luck, next time!

  • m.maidens says:

    Why both­er witih cor­re­spon­dence from 1938? Don’t we get enough junk mail to waste time with this?

  • Margaret says:

    Nowa­days there just would­n’t be a reply at all (via email or any oth­er way).

    I espe­cial­ly love how two women anchor the let­ter­head at the upper left and low­er right, with the cute (male) dwarves serv­ing as com­ic relief, laugh­ing at your sil­ly ambi­tions.

  • Nicole says:

    “Put your­self in the mind of an artis­tic young woman who … pursue[s] a career with a stu­dio”

    The let­ter is also signed by a woman (it looks like Mary Cleave). Imag­ine being the woman tasked with squash­ing oth­er wom­en’s dreams on the basis of their shared gen­der.

    Also, Mary Ford cer­tain­ly was­n’t the only appli­cant who received this response:

  • Anonymous says:

    Inter­est­ing! A woman reject­ing anoth­er woman. Those were strange times indeed

  • Catherine Devlin says:

    When we get frus­trat­ed, it’s nice to look back­ward and remem­ber that there has been progress — tons and tons and tons of progress.

  • derp says:

    Per­haps, the woman that is look­ing to hire young men for the job was also look­ing for a lit­tle eye can­dy for her­self. Lol!

  • tocin says:

    thats why dis­ney went down hill, they start­ed hir­ing women for artis­tic posi­tions

  • Christopher Gabriel Nu00fau00f1ez says:

    Hey there, I’m a pro­duc­er look­ing to hire young up and com­ing female ani­ma­tors of col­or for a film project, if any­one fits the bill and is look­ing to work some­where that ENCOURAGES female ani­ma­tors to apply, holler at me, feel free to pass on my info —

  • Dr. Zhivago says:

    Wow real­ly sad…but as you can tell…at D23…female ani­ma­tors are very few…I won­der why…ask a fel­low ani­ma­tor at the parks…they need to hire more women at the parks and D23. So lit­tle girls can be hope­ful. And Dream that Dis­ney Dream.

    Dr. Zhiva­go

  • Jeff Missinne says:

    One of Dis­ney’s rel­a­tive­ly minor rivals, Wal­ter Lantz (Woody Wood­peck­er, Andy Pan­da, Chilly Willy) employed women as ani­ma­tors. They were few in num­ber, per­haps few applied; but he appre­ci­at­ed their tal­ents. Fore­most among them was LaV­erne Hard­ing, who became one of his top artists for rough­ly 20 years, and re-designed Woody in the ear­ly 1950’s. (She lat­er worked for Han­na-Bar­bera, De Patie-Fre­leng, and Fil­ma­tion.)
    Oth­ers at Lantz’s includ­ed Xenia Beck­with, who went on to Warn­er Bros., UPA (Mr. Magoo), Lar­ry Har­mon (Bozo the Clown) and also Fil­ma­tion; and Anna Osborn, who worked for Jer­ry Fair­banks ani­mat­ing lips on farm and zoo ani­mals in his “Speak­ing of Ani­mals” come­dies; and lat­er worked at Han­na-Bar­bera.
    Max Fleis­ch­er in New York employed a cou­ple female ani­ma­tors as well; Lil­lian Fried­man and Edith Ver­nick.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.