The women of yore

I graduated in 1951 on the GI Bill. In addition to receiving a first-rate engineering education, I was a member of Cal’s Flying Club.

Before the 1950 Big Game, a group of us flew over the Stanford campus and dropped rolls of toilet paper over the Hoover Library Tower. We used a tool from a common competitive event — paper cutting. We just unrolled toilet paper into the slip stream, and it would drift down to the ground in a streamer. (In a contest we’d see who could cut the paper the most times with the wings of a plane.) We didn’t do any aerobatics over Stanford. The Stanford Flying Club returned the favor.

There were several gals in the club, including twins Jan and Marion Dietrich. Both were damn good pilots who could do spot landings better than most guys. In 1960, they were part of Mercury 13, female aviators who underwent secret astronaut testing. They never reached the stars.

Many things are different at Cal now. In the class of 1951, there was one woman in the College of Engineering — that I knew of. She was in my junior thermodynamics class, and was usually late. Professor Ed Laitone would begin his lectures with an off-color joke, and by the time he got to the punchline, she’d walk in. In those days, we didn’t tell dirty jokes in front of women.

Fast forward to around 1975. My wife and I were living in Connecticut and drove to Quebec for a vacation. A tour bus from California arrived. The ladies went shopping, and my wife asked if anyone was from San Diego or Berkeley. One woman said she graduated from Cal in 1951. When I met her, she told me her roommate was the only woman in the College of Engineering at that time.

I look at alumni publications now and it seems as if the women outnumber the men. Times change.

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