Catching up, Finally, With a First Female
- by Matthew Brodsky
Linda Garelik Leffert, W’58, emphasizes that she had an excellent educational experience, made many friends (men and women), and still fondly remembers her time at Wharton. Part of that experience, however, was dealing with the fact that not everyone welcomed the admission of women as undergraduates at Wharton.
There were many gender-related challenges. A 16-year-old freshman, Linda was usually the only woman in her core classes. Some professors complained they could no longer tell dirty jokes in class. Grades were posted on a bulletin board, and there was a draft at the time. While she looked at grades one day, a fellow undergraduate commented that her good grade probably just sent a male classmate into the Army and possibly to his death.
The challenges did not stop after school. To mark the admission of women as Wharton undergraduates, Merrill Lynch, in conjunction with the Lucy Stone League, provided a few partial scholarships for women in the entering class of 1958. Linda received one, and following graduation with a desire to pursue a career in Wall Street, she interviewed at Merrill Lynch, which had a one-year training program. Reflecting attitudes prevalent at the time, her interviewers told her that as a young, unmarried female, she was likely to marry, have children and leave the workforce before Merrill could recoup the investment in training her.
She interviewed at Dreyfus and Co. (whose training program was several months) and was hired. On completion of the Dreyfus training program, she became a registered representative, assisting a partner in servicing his clients as well as clients of her own.
Linda married in the spring of 1959 and worked at Dreyfus until shortly before her daughter was born in December 1962, longer than most of the men who started at the firm with her.
The family moved several times to accommodate her husband’s medical career as a surgeon and his service in the Navy in Florida, Okinawa and Vietnam. Their son was born at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station in 1965. In 1972, the family moved to Boston, when her husband, Dr. Robert Leffert, joined the staff at the Massachusetts General Hospital.
In 1973, Linda went to law school in Boston and began a successful career that continued for more than 35 years, primarily defending medical malpractice claims. Unfortunately, gender equality in the law was also prevalent in the early days when women were a minority among attorneys in general and trial lawyers in particular.
Now retired, she reached out to Wharton Magazine in hopes of contacting old Penn friends with whom she had lost ties. This was after she saw the cover from our Fall 2013 edition (see above)—which included in inset a reproduction of the classic Penn Gazette cover from October 1954, introducing the first female undergraduate students at Wharton. Linda was on that cover (below, second on the right). She opened our Fall 2013 magazine hoping to find out what had happened to those other classmates.
Well, we let Linda down. She let us know in a letter (which we published in the Winter 2014 issue). We reached out in person to apologize and to hear her story. Hence, this blog.
We would like to help Linda connect with some of her old classmates and inform the Wharton community of the careers and lives of the women who entered Wharton as undergraduates in 1954.
Please let us know—either in the comment section below or by email at email@example.com—if you know where we can find the other women from this historic image, along with the other female members of the Wharton Class of 1958.