Careers for Women

A Novel


Read by Carolyn Cook

By Joanna Scott

Formats and Prices



  1. Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
  2. ebook $13.99 $17.99 CAD
  3. Hardcover $26.00 $34.00 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around July 25, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

New York in the late 1950s. A city, and a world, on the cusp of change . . .

Maggie Gleason is looking toward the future. Part of a midcentury wave of young women seeking new lives in New York City, Maggie works for legendary Port Authority public relations maven Lee K. Jaffe — affectionately known to her loyal staff as Mrs. J. Having left Cleveland, Maggie has come to believe that she can write any story for herself that she imagines.

Pauline Moreau is running from the past — and a shameful secret. She arrives in the city on the brink of despair, saddled with a young daughter who needs more love, attention, and resources than Pauline can ever hope to provide. Seeing that Pauline needs a helping hand, Mrs. J tasks Maggie with befriending, and looking after, Pauline.

As the old New York gives way to the new, and Mrs. J’s dream of the world’s largest skyscraper begins to rise from the streets of lower Manhattan, Pauline — with the aid of Maggie and Mrs. J — also remakes herself. But when she reignites the scandal that drove her to New York, none of their lives will ever be the same. Maggie must question everything she thought she knew about love, work, ambition, and family to discover the truth about the enigmatic, strong woman she thought she had rescued.

Careers for Women is a masterful novel about the difficulties of building a career, a dream, or a life — and about the powerful small mercies of friendship and compassion.



The Golden Door

“My dears, it goes without saying that there are advantages to being a woman.” Mrs. J spoke in a voice strong and clear enough to be heard over the noise of other diners. I was sitting to her left and fixed my gaze on the powdery segment that clung to the end of her cigarette like a young bear hanging on a branch too narrow to support its weight. She tapped the cigarette on the rim of the ashtray. The branch wobbled; the cub slipped and fell.

“Still,” she continued, “one’s sex is sometimes a handicap, especially in our own institution, where those few of us who have not served as commanders of a large navy vessel are expected to prove our worth in riskier ways. It’s a fine line one has to walk to survive the executive gauntlet. A woman must give the impression that she is confident and never let down her guard. She must be poised and unflappable. Her clothes and accessories should come from the finest stores. Regarding the field of public relations, a woman can earn what she is worth, provided she possesses tact, resourcefulness, personality, and imagination. But if you have an aversion to nerve strain and don’t want to work late into the night, there are more suitable professions for you to consider, such as horticulture or ornithology. Why not become a chemist or a garden photographer? There are all sorts of careers open to women these days. I met a woman just last month who is a director at a home for girls who are misfits. I asked her if she ever felt demoralized by the behavior of the residents in her care. She assured me that the work of straightening out something twisted is entirely satisfying.”

There were eleven of us at the table, plus Mrs. J. We were the clerical girls in the Office of Public Relations at the Port Authority; Mrs. Lee K. Jaffe was our director, and she was launching an annual tradition that would continue until her retirement. While treating us to a lavish lunch at the Golden Door, the high-end restaurant at the New York International Airport, Mrs. J took advantage of the opportunity to offer the kind of advice that would be useful to anyone who wanted to follow in her footsteps.

In reality, most of us had no interest in a career in public relations. It was 1958, and we had come to New York in search of husbands. Mrs. J seemed to understand as much, but she wanted to make sure we knew what we’d be in for in case we changed our minds.

Some of the girls sipped martinis. Others bit into generous dollops of red caviar spread on triangles of toast. I gazed toward the window and watched a plane roll slowly along a runway in the distance.

Jessie Putnam raised her hand, as if in a classroom.

“Yes, Jessie?”

We were already a little drunk by then. Among us, Jessie Putnam was the most ready to be reckless. “I have a question,” she announced.

“Go ahead.” There was no shred of impatience in Mrs. J’s tone, yet I sensed a private calculation going on as she considered Jessie Putnam’s future role in her department.

“What’s the most difficult part of your job?” Jessie asked.

“If I told you that the most difficult part is also the easiest part, can any of you guess what it is?”

“Dictating letters,” proposed Brenda Dowdle.

“Good answer,” said Mrs. J, “but no.”

“Going back to work after drinking three martinis,” Jessie Putnam said with a giggle.

“I never have more than one martini at lunch. You, Miss Putnam, should show similar restraint.” We all froze for an awkward moment, embarrassed for Jessie, until Mrs. J added, “Today, of course, is an exception—cheers,” and she lifted her glass in a toast.

“Is it meeting with…” This from shy Eugenia Gilmore, who never raised her voice above a whisper. “With…” She said something I couldn’t make out.

Trudy Frizzell, sitting beside Eugenia, repeated the word that had been inaudible to the rest of us: “Newspapermen?”

“Oh, that is just difficult, I’m afraid.”

Other wrong guesses offered by the girls included managing the department’s budget, going to Washington to testify before Congress, and telling a roomful of copywriters—all male—what to do.

I was the only one who kept my mouth shut, and Mrs. J noticed. “Miss Gleason,” she said, turning to me, “don’t you want to wager a guess?”

“I think,” I said, looking down at my hands, curling my fingers to hide my gnawed nails, “it must be difficult to have to perform in front of a crowd. Giving a speech and all…in public…that’s hard, I imagine.” I struggled against my instinct to shut up. “And maybe it’s easy, too, if you’re used to pretending to be someone you’re not.”

I was instantly horrified, aware, too late, that I had effectively accused one of the city’s most powerful businesswomen of hypocrisy…to her face. Good Lord, had I left my cozy home in Cleveland just to be thrown out on the street in New York? I had no family in the city and not a penny of savings. Yet I had boldly revealed my capacity for rudeness to the woman who was in charge of my livelihood. Pack your bags now, Maggie Gleason.

I should have known that Mrs. J would never fire anyone for failing one of her pop quizzes. Anyway, it appeared I hadn’t failed.

“Touché,” she said, grinding out her cigarette. “Now, girls, let’s talk about what it means to pretend in this business.”

Scale Bar

When I started working for the Port Authority in the spring of 1958, the headquarters was on Eighth Avenue, Austin Tobin was executive director, and Lee K. Jaffe was the chief of the Public Relations Department. I had been hired as a secretary and so was not surprised that one of my first assignments was to fetch coffee for Mrs. J. I was surprised when she ordered me to make a mock-up of a detailed map, with individual shops listed, of the downtown blocks between West and Greenwich Streets. I knew nothing about how to make a map, and Mrs. J didn’t take the time to give me instructions; she just warned me to be discreet when I visited the neighborhood to gather information.

The best method, I decided, was to trace the designated area of an existing map of Manhattan on a separate piece of paper. I used the largest map I could find, so the neighborhood I was supposed to include filled nearly the whole sheet. I wrote in the street names by hand, then spent a morning downtown exploring the blocks from Fulton to Liberty and from West Street to Greenwich, charting the major businesses, among them Syms Men’s Apparel, Cantor the Cabinet King, Arrow Electronics, McInnes Restaurant and Bar. I went inside them all in an effort to gauge their dimensions. I walked out to the end of West Street to count the piers, then had a hamburger at McInnes. My last stop was Oscar’s Radio Shop.

I discovered in Oscar’s something between a hardware store and a curiosity shop. I felt an urge to comb through the boxes filled with rotary switches, clamps, hooks, and dials. Huge spools of copper wire were propped against the walls. Heating pipes pinged gently. Abandoned televisions and radios beckoned to be adopted. Scattered without any evidence of order along the shelves were terminal strips and boards, metal plates, vacuum tubes, and other oddly shaped objects with inscrutable functions.

Though I wasn’t a radio enthusiast myself, I found Oscar’s to be an unexpectedly restful place amid the hubbub of downtown. I liked the atmosphere of the shop so much that I lingered for a long while. I pretended to be interested in the antique radios on display, but in truth I just enjoyed being among people who were so quietly purposeful. Customers arrived with their broken machines. Clerks climbed ladders and dug into the depths of cabinets in search of parts needed to make repairs. A boy in oversize overalls and a dingy felt cap pulled low on his forehead sat on a stool in a back corner, entranced by a manual he was reading, a kitten asleep on his lap.

Back at the P.A., I colored squares on my map to indicate the different businesses and drew dotted lines to connect them to the names I wrote in pen. I hesitated before delivering the map to the printer, wondering if I should give it to Mrs. J to look it over. I decided that she wouldn’t want to be bothered.

When I saw the finished map, I thought it looked clean and professional. Mrs. J did not agree. She took one short glance at the copy I handed her and tossed it back to me. I failed to catch it and was forced to stoop to lift it from the floor. By the time I was upright again, Mrs. J had already swiveled in her chair and was reaching for the handle of a file cabinet. With her back to me, she told me to redo the map and make sure to put in the missing scale bar.

I admit my humiliation was out of proportion to the situation. Mrs. J hadn’t even raised her voice. She’d been entirely reasonable—a map without a scale bar isn’t very useful. Still, I felt as if my application for admission to some prestigious college had been turned down. And I wasn’t even planning to go to college. Yet Lee Jaffe had such power over me that a word of praise from her kept me glowing all day, and her disappointment broke my heart.

From the start, I tried desperately to please her. I can’t really explain why she assumed such importance in my mind. I’d always been obedient to my superiors without giving them much thought. My parents were sensible Presbyterians who aimed to raise their daughter to be a good citizen. I didn’t feel the need for another authority figure in my life. But Mrs. J loomed large in my imagination, for reasons I will never fully understand. And when I had the opportunity to choose between a better-paying job in a different department or the same salary as an assistant to Mrs. J, I chose to stick with Mrs. J. That’s why I’m the one telling this story.

Radio Row, Circa 1963

Picture this: Six men, four of them in short-sleeved tailored white shirts, two of them in suits, only one wearing a tie, all of them holding signs protesting the latest landgrab by the Port Authority. PORT AUTHORITY HAS NO AUTHORITY TO CONFISCATE PRIVATE PROPERTY ITS UNCONSTITUTIONAL reads one sign. And another: PORT AUTHORITY HAS NO PERMISSION FROM CONGRESS TO BUILD WORLD TRADE CENTER.

The men are standing outside Oscar’s Radio Shop. Through a corner of the window, you can see a jumble of radios and televisions. The grinning face of a white-haired man is visible between the shoulders of two of the protesters. The rest of the crowd in the rear is blocked by the men and their signs.

On the sidewalk in the foreground of the photograph is a coffin, the hinged lid open to show the face of the occupant. Though the sign on the coffin says HERE LIES MR. SMALL BUSINESSMAN. DON’T LET THE P.A. BURY HIM, in fact the role of Mr. Small Businessman is played by a female mannequin borrowed from a department store. With her hair cut short and dressed in a suit, she resembles a beautiful boy more than an owner of one of the local businesses.

If you look carefully at the photograph, you will see shadows of onlookers on the left side of the sidewalk opposite the coffin. There are two shadows in particular to note, one much smaller than the other. These are the shadows of a woman named Pauline Moreau and her daughter, Sonia, who was not quite four at the time, young enough to think that the occupant of the coffin had once been alive.

What If

I met Pauline Moreau in 1964, after Lee Jaffe hired her to organize files. I’m told she had been a familiar figure around the piers near the neighborhood the P.A. had designated as the future site of the World Trade headquarters. In her pencil skirt, chiffon blouse, and silly tin tiara, she aimed to solicit the workmen at lunchtime, though she liked to hang around the area all day to keep her claim on it, for it was popular with other hustlers.

I was accompanying Mrs. Jaffe and a large entourage of foreign journalists from a variety of European countries when Pauline appeared among a group of prostitutes who had been rounded up and handcuffed by the police; they were being dragged by a chain to the rear cage of a van. One of the women was screaming obscenities. Another one kicked out at a cop, who responded by knocking her on the buttocks with his club, causing her to collapse and nearly pull the other prostitutes to the ground with her. There was a loud, gabbling outcry as the women tried to steady themselves. Bystanders, too, began yelling, and the scene threatened to explode into chaos until one of the cops appeared with a bucket and tossed water on the women, shocking them into a silence that lasted long enough for the one who had been hit with the club to clamber back to her feet.

You can imagine how excited the foreign visitors were to come upon such spicy street drama in a city they would go on to characterize as filthy, crime-ridden, and corrupt. As it happened, there were no photographers present, but the reporters were busy writing notes on their pads. I stood mutely, stupidly, embarrassed by everything—the prostitutes with their deep, sweaty cleavage and cheap clothing, the brutality of the police, the smell of the garbage in the street, the journalists who were happy to be entertained without paying the price of a ticket. I didn’t even notice that Mrs. J had left us until I saw her deep in conversation with a police sergeant, leaning so close to him that she seemed to be kissing him on the ear. Whatever she was saying, it obviously made an impression. The sergeant signaled to a fellow officer, who proceeded to unlock the handcuffs, setting the women free.

In minutes, the crowd had dispersed, the reporters had put away their notepads, and we were following Mrs. J back on our tour. Only when we were returning to the bus supplied by the P.A. did I see Pauline Moreau sitting on a doorstep, hugging her scabby shins, her blouse drenched, her hair flying free from that crown of a tiara. She was rocking back and forth with a crazed, lost expression. As we passed her, Mrs. J slowed and slipped to the rear of our party. The journalists didn’t seem to notice, and I know they didn’t see Mrs. J hand Pauline a business card, for none of them asked about it once we were settled on the bus.

Sometimes I try to imagine how my life would have been different if Pauline had never been hired by Lee Jaffe. I come up with all sorts of scenarios, though none of them seems convincing.

A Theory of Illusions

Unlike Pauline, I had my parents’ blessing when I left for New York. My mother regretted that she hadn’t seen more of the world when she was younger; she understood why I wanted to leave Cleveland and quietly encouraged me to go. My father, who liked to say that an eligible girl needs a wide field to find a husband, predicted that I would be engaged before Christmas.

I was twenty-one years old in 1958—four years older than Pauline and, unlike her, looking forward to marriage. I figured I would find a temporary job, something that would give me a chance to meet single young men. I hadn’t thought to question the ethos I’d inherited from generations of housewives. My mother, my grandmother, my aunts all made it clear that they pitied workingwomen. Successful ladies did not have to work for a living.

Secretly, I admit, I used to page through magazines and hungrily read profiles of women who had established themselves in one profession or another. I remember one article in particular that captured my interest. It was by a woman who identified herself as an “Artist of Tropical Research.” She loved her job, and she recommended it for anyone who had keen powers of observation, a steady hand, and an ability to recognize essentials that deserved emphasis. She explained that a scientific artist must be ready to draw anything from an amoeba to a whale. She promised that the work would be rewarding for those who were suited to it, though she warned that the financial return was variable, ranging, she said, from a moderate salary to nothing at all. Of course, I would need to earn more than nothing. But I had always loved to draw and was good at it. I told myself that if I was doing something I loved, I wouldn’t mind scrimping to make ends meet.

I pored over the classifieds but didn’t see any opportunities for a scientific artist. Instead, I found plenty of listings for clerical girls. I applied to several. Within two weeks of my arrival in New York, I was employed by the Port Authority.

I didn’t immediately warm to the job. It was drudgery typing other people’s letters regarding business that didn’t interest me. I didn’t like having to correct my mistakes on both the original sheet and the carbon copy. I felt awkward answering phones. More than anything else, I hated taking dictation. I had never properly learned shorthand, and it was all I could do to keep up with Mrs. J when she rattled off multiple memos.

Soon, though, I found myself getting used to the routine. In her imperious commitment to the task at hand, Mrs. J made it seem that the goals of her department were of weighty importance. Under her supervision, I felt more valued than I ever had in my life. I enjoyed gossiping with the other girls over our coffee breaks. I liked getting a regular paycheck. I dreaded the end of the workday, when I had to go back to the rooming house on Second Avenue. On the weekends, I couldn’t wait for Monday morning. Office work became such a comfortable habit that I would stick to it for more than thirty years.

In contrast to me, Pauline spent some time trying out other ways of making money—always with the expectation that with minimal effort, she’d get filthy rich and never have to work again—before coming to the Port Authority.

I arrived in New York many months before Pauline did, and it would be years before we met. I picture our two paths as converging lines. At our origins, the space between us is vast. As we get closer, the angle shrinks. We head toward each other, slowly approaching our inevitable intersection, but with certain physical realities keeping us separate.

Represented on graph paper, converging lines create a trick of perspective. Draw two bars of equal length between them, and the bar closer to the point of convergence will look longer, proving that illusion can have its own kind of truth.

Pauline Arrives in the Big City

A girl with an umbrella, so excited about the world that she can hardly breathe. A girl walking in the rain through Times Square, dazzled by the lights, stopping at an open door and peering down the dark corridor of an establishment advertising itself with a poster of a stripper pinching her own cherry-red nipples. A girl whose private reflections on the meaning of XXX as she walks on are interrupted when she sees a dollar bill in the gutter. She peels the bill off the pavement and pockets it, intending to keep it as a memento, her lucky dollar. Now, her first day here, she has eight hundred and fifty-one dollars.

Correction: She spent five dollars on a train ticket. Fifty cents on a sandwich at the station in Albany. A dollar plus change for the umbrella. The deposit of thirty dollars for her room on West Eighty-Second Street. How much does that leave her? She has lost track. It is all a blur—her fortune, her life, the lights of Broadway. Blurred by the sweet spring rain. Drops lit by neon, as though from within. Neon veiled by the drops. Sucking sounds of tires. A girl just walking along. A girl beginning to thicken around the waist. A girl who is happy to be free. Walking downtown under her umbrella, then uptown as the sky clears and a velvety breeze blows away the dampness.

What a beautiful night. She pretends that her closed umbrella is a fancy walking stick. She keeps her chin up. She tries to look like a blue blood.

At Columbus Circle she stops to watch a juggler throwing plastic batons into the air. The crowd oohs when he catches a baton under his lifted knee, aahs when he spins and catches a baton behind his back. How is a human being capable of such dexterous actions? The show embodies the magic of New York. The girl can’t believe what she sees. The buildings are taller than she would have thought possible. The people are more beautiful than anywhere else on earth. Even the dogs are stylish in their doggy raincoats, their puffed tails raised like the sickle feathers of proud roosters.

She is just a girl from Albany who finally is discovering the taste of freedom. A girl who walks uptown along Broadway and turns west on Seventy-Seventh, intending to zigzag to Eighty-Second and West End Avenue. A girl who is seen as easy bait. A girl who doesn’t think about the dangers of a deserted block and who, before she knows what is happening, is grabbed from behind.

She is not just afraid; she is appalled! Don’t men get enough without having to steal what’s not theirs? She is a mother-to-be, for God’s sake. Fortunately, she has a handy weapon in the shape of an umbrella.

Swipe sting pound kick rage of the eons power bestowed as if from above you prick get off my back you stinking garbage pit you maggot you better lay off mister the girl will put a hole in your foot she will poke out your eye if you don’t stop with your groping she will gallop at you with the spear of her umbrella pointed straight at your pathetic heart you pervert take that and that and that from a girl who will show no mercy so you better run while there’s still time you better get away from the girl before she turns you into mincemeat.

Idiot, whoever he was. He should have known better.

A girl smoothing her ruffled skirt, tugging it back over her knees. A girl who isn’t just anyone. A girl who is proud. A tough girl. A girl who refuses to think of herself as vulnerable. A girl unwilling to learn what it really means to be alone in this world.

A Problem Named Sonia

October 1959: Pauline Moreau has come out of her paraldehyde-induced stupor in the maternity ward at New York Hospital and is waiting to meet her child. She doesn’t know how long she’s been sedated, or where the baby is, or even whether it is a girl or a boy. What is taking the nurses so long to introduce her to her little one?

Money is taking them so long. Money—or the lack thereof—makes nurses inattentive and doctors downright brutal, or so they were in Pauline’s case if her fuzzy memory is at all accurate.

Jesus, shut her up, I can’t think.

They shouldn’t have talked like that in front of her, not before she fell asleep!

Hear you got a breech there, Doc.

A breech? She vaguely wondered then, and wonders again now, if she would have to pay extra. She had come straight to the hospital after her water broke without calling ahead to her doctor. The truth is, she doesn’t have a doctor. Doctors are something she hasn’t bothered with, being relatively new to the city. She has been here only five months, and already her money is getting low. But she doesn’t want to fret about finding a job. Right now, she wants to meet her baby. Where is he? Or she? She can’t name it if she hasn’t met it.

“Yoo-hoo?” she calls in the direction of the open door.

From the opposite side of the room, behind the curtain hiding the second bed, a voice replies, “Keep your trap shut!”

Other women might be offended, but not Pauline, who has seen enough of the world to know not to expect kindness from strangers. All her life, people have been telling her to keep her trap shut. Even the man she nicknamed Bobo, the one who fathered the child she has yet to meet, told her to keep her trap shut. But Pauline Moreau is no pushover. Bobo understood that she could make trouble for him, given that he already had a legal wife and worked for a boss “who doesn’t smile at perfidy.” That’s a quote from Bobo himself. Pauline had to guess at the meaning of perfidy, but at least a baby on the way gave a girl leverage, and it earned Pauline enough to set herself up in a boardinghouse in New York City and lie around watching her belly swell.

“I want to see my baby,” Pauline says to the curtain.

“Plenty of time for that,” says the curtain to Pauline. “Get some shut-eye while you can because you won’t be getting much coming up.”

With the speaker hidden, the statement has the force of prophecy. Pauline reflects for a moment, then asks, “Is this your first?”

“Fifth. Now stop pestering me.”

Pauline has more she wants to ask the curtain, but she is distracted by the entrance of a nurse, who proceeds to check Pauline’s vitals without a word, squeezing her arm with the blood-pressure cuff, taking her pulse.

“Where is my baby?” Pauline asks.

The nurse, who has her forefinger on Pauline’s wrist, glances up from her watch with an inscrutable expression.

“What?” Pauline asks.

“I didn’t say anything,” the nurse replies. After a minute, she picks up the clipboard and jots down numbers.

“Why can’t I see my baby?” Pauline persists.

The nurse’s smooth face doesn’t match her white hair. “Honey, there’s a problem,” she says quietly.

Problem. That’s a word Pauline has never liked. She associates it with math classes she couldn’t keep up with and fights between her uncle and his succession of wives that culminated in dishes crashing onto the floor.

“What’s wrong?”

“Don’t worry, the doctors have it under control. Everything will be fine.”

“No, it won’t,” Pauline announces. How can she be so sure? It must be her first blast of a mother’s intuition. She, who is hardly more than a child herself—somehow she knows that everything will not be fine, not ever again.

Fortunately, Pauline Moreau gave up the feeling of sadness years ago. The worst she feels is annoyed, which is definitely unpleasant, worth avoiding whenever possible, but more tolerable than sadness. And sometimes it can’t be helped.

How annoyed she is when she says, “I want to see my baby.”

“You will soon.”



On Sale
Jul 25, 2017
Hachette Audio

Joanna Scott

About the Author

Joanna Scott is the author of ten novels, including Arrogance, a PEN-Faulkner finalist, The Manikin, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and Follow Me, a New York Times Notable Book. Her awards include a MacArthur Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Ambassador Book Award from the English-Speaking Union, and the Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Scott is the Roswell Smith Burrows Professor of English at the University of Rochester.

Learn more about this author