For Men Only

August 05, 2011

I remember being totally into spy stories as a kid. I had grand visions of breaking codes, sneaking into enemy territory, and saving the world. I did look into it during college but was told it was virtually impossible for a woman (as later described by Nora Slatkin, former executive director of the CIA, in her 1996 “Women in CIA” speech). My career interests changed dramatically as I started my lifelong path among nonprofits, still changing the world, but overtly.

The reason this came to mind recently was a story my sister-in-law told me while visiting Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago. She took one of those tourist boat trips and heard the story of the men-only elevator put in the Washington Monument when it was first built in the 1800s. Powered by a steam engine, it took 20 minutes to get to the top. Tea and wine were served to the male riders, while women and children were relegated to walking those 897 steps and 50 landings.

Her story got us reminiscing about men-only roadblocks we faced, like my almost-CIA job. She’s worked in the advertising arena for many years, so you can imagine the “old-boy” stories she remembers. We reflected on the men-versus-women pay differences experienced during our various career climbs (and that it felt like 897 steps at times). We then served ourselves tea and wine while lamenting the thousands of lost salary dollars due to pay inequality and toasted to the progress women have made. I caught her up on AAUW’s efforts on Capitol Hill, both on our victory with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and our ongoing fight for the Paycheck Fairness Act on behalf of all women.

If you are visiting D.C. this summer, be sure to check out the National Museum of Women in the Arts (AAUW helped get them started); the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site, dedicated to the African American woman educator, presidential adviser, and political activist; the Clara Barton National Historic Site, which commemorates the life of the founder of the American Red Cross; and the Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens, the former home of art collector and philanthropist Marjorie Merriweather Post.

Did I mention the National Women’s History Museum? If you are looking to visit this, forget it — the museum hasn’t yet received permission from Congress to buy land. Help AAUW support the organization working to secure permission for this privately financed museum near the National Mall.

Here’s one last recommendation for both women and men: Take time to visit one of the most fascinating museums in D.C. that celebrates the history of women’s progress toward equality, the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum. If you happen to be here on August 9, join AAUW at our Cocktails and Convos happy hour there from 5:30–7:30 p.m.

Do you have any for-men-only stories, whether they happened to you or that you learned from visiting somewhere? Do you have any favorite D.C. women-in-history places to recommend? Please share!

Christy Jones, CAE By:   |   August 05, 2011


  1. Mary says:

    I confess that I find it hard to believe the story about the men-only elevator. I do believe many stories of discrimination – I have some of my own that I can tell. But that one just sounds like a myth. Is there any documentation for the story?

  2. christyjones christyjones says:

    Someone asked me if the “men only” elevator was true or a myth. I actually had the same thought when sister-in-law told me the story, so I checked it out. If you search on “Washington Monument” in Wikipedia, scroll down and read the section, “Later History” you will see the story…with a few more details. Enjoy!

  3. Hard to believe that in 1976, men of the South End Rowing Club and Dolphin Swim Club, two venerable institutions that sit on the beach in the heart of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, still barred women from joining until a class action law suit forced the clubs to let women in.

    The attorney who took the suit all the way to federal court, Sandra Terzian-Feliz, says, “This wasn’t a gender discrimination lawsuit; It was to force the City to abide by federal law, which mandates that any group with a club on public parkland must admit anyone who wants to use it for its intended purpose.

    So in addition to the two swim clubs that were required to admit women and all members of the public, clubs such as Rod & Gun, clubs for lawn bowling, archery and other activities — that had facilities on public parkland — had to open up to all comers. There were at least 30 such clubs scattered around the City on public parkland in 1976 that either barred women (and anyone they didn’t like) from entering and using, or had separate men’s and women’s clubs.

    According to Terzian-Feliz, these activities clubs were more like country clubs. “They discriminated on the grounds that if they didn’t like you, you couldn’t get in — that’s what private clubs do,” she says.

    The lawsuit lasted for about 8 years. I joined the South End Rowing Club in 1986, not long after the issue was resolved, and have happily swum in the icy waters of San Francisco Bay since then.

    A side note: The current president and vice president are both women, and both named Kim….

  4. christyjones christyjones says:

    Roberta: thanks for that story about San Francisco’s South End Rowing Club and Dolphin Swim Club previous “for men only” practices. It’s not really been that long ago. I wonder how many other similar situations are out there.

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