Wednesday, June 20, 2012

“We will fight them…”

This is another story from the Pink Collar Wars, the fight for women’s job equality in the 1960’s and 70’s.  It is also a tribute to Doris Travis, my absolute favorite ally in that effort.  Doris turned 80 earlier this year.  We have been friends for more than half of her life, but when we met, everyone around us predicted that we would never get along.

Doris on the 25th anniversary of her
coming to New York
It was 1969.  I was a junior officer in the Personnel Department of the Bankers Trust Company—a prestigious Wall Street bank.  Fresh from helping to institute the bank’s affirmative action program for minorities, I focused my statistical analyses on the position of women.  The picture that emerged was abysmal: if one drew a line at a salary of $15,000 per year, 85% of the women in the bank were below the line and 85% of the men were above it—many men substantially so.  The closer one looked, the uglier the picture became.  I vowed to use the strategy that my colleagues and I had recently employed with our efforts on behalf of minorities.  That meant beginning with a pitch to the Chairman of the Board.

The Bankers
Trust building
at 16 Wall St.
My higher ups in what would now be called Human Resources were not at all supportive, but they were unwilling to openly oppose the idea.  Instead, they decided to throw me to the lions.  The lioness they had in mind was Doris Travis. HA!  Little did they know!

They told me I would have to make my own appointment with the Chairman and to do that I had to begin with Miss Travis, the Chairman’s administrative assistant.  “She will not be sympathetic,” the department head said.  “She’s no bra burner;” my boss actually smirked.  Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, I thought.  The WWII image turned out to the prophetic.

Not without some trepidation, I dialed her extension.  A woman with an elegant, clipped British accent answered and to my glee gave me no nonsense and an appointment within a few days.  My management raised their eyebrows and must have thought I would return headless.

On the appointed day, I dressed in my most feminine business outfit—a flower-print number with a lot of pink—playing against type and presented myself to Doris Travis ten minutes before my scheduled appointment.

I found a tall, lovely woman with a beautiful smile.  “I am so glad someone is FINALLY addressing this important issue,” she said.  She was all business: making sure I had everything I needed, cluing me in on how best to approach my subject.  A couple of minutes to zero hour, she took me into the women’s room.  “What else can I do to be helpful?” she asked.  “Do you have a handkerchief?”

When she was sure I was all set, she put on a wonderful imitation of Winston Churchill: “We will fight them in branches, we will fight them in Trust Department…”

What a woman!  What a comrade in arms!
I later learned that Doris is Jewish and had endured the terror of growing up in London during the Blitz.  She came through that misery full of spirit and wit and with a delightful sense of fun.  We have been close friends since we met.

And in those banking battles we fought side by side—WE WON!

Annamaria Alfieri 



  1. Great women! You and Doris!

  2. Wonderful and inspiring, both your work on the issues of women's rights and your portrayal of the action steps you and Doris shared. Your readers would be interested in Doris and her strong background in a future novel?????? Think about it, Pat. tjs

  3. Sisterhood is powerful. Can't say it enough.

  4. Rose and I always enjoyed Doris's company, her wit and no-bullshit approach to life... Happy Birthday, Doris!