Girls, Games, And Career Guidance

illustration women careers 1960s

When it came to imagining career goals for this generation of girls, Barbie was supposed to be breaking through the plastic ceiling, but a recent sexist Barbie career book “I Can be a Computer Engineer” is a throwback to an earlier time.

Apparently Barbie is in way over her pretty blonde head when it comes to computer science and needs the help of 2 tech savvy boys to navigate the world of computers.

Barbie Computer Engineer Book

“I’m only creating the design ideas,” Barbie says laughing. “I’ll need Steven’s and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game.” Due to the backlash against the negative stereotypes presented in the book Mattel and Random House have pulled it off the shelves. Game over.



Perhaps Barbie best stick to teaching, nursing, or being a stewardess.

This retro advise that women must rely on men to get a job done is one girls have heard for years.

To those of us who were the first generation of Barbie buddies, the story line it is eerily familiar harking back to a time when options presented to a real girl in the 1960’s were less than thrilling.

What Shall I Be?

By the time I was 11 years old, I  had bid my EZ bake oven goodbye   and tucked my Tiny Tears doll into her rock-bye crib for the last time. Like most other pre pubescent  girls in the mid 1960’s I was  ready to target more weighty matters- like what  I wanted to  be when I grew up.

We were, our Weekly Readers told us, a new generation of girls, fueled first by the New Frontier challenges of JFK, now primed and ready to join LBJ’s Great Society.

To assist us on our journey was a brand new board game  called “What Shall I Be? The Exciting Game of Career Girls.” Debuting in 1966 it was made by Selchow & Righter Company makers of the popular game of Parcheesi.

1960s toys games career girls

What Shall I Be? The Exciting Game of Career Girls 1966 Board Game. Players learn what it takes to become a teacher, ballerina, nurse, model, actress and airline stewardess. For girls 8 to 13

Along with “Miss Popularity” and “Mystery Date”, “What Shall I Be?”  formed the  holy grail   of board games designed to  prepare  a young girl with the essential skills needed for  the exciting game of life of which she apparently hadn’t a clue.

The object of the game was to be the first player to become a Career Girl, achieved by collecting school, subject and personality cards for specific careers. With the roll of the dice the thrilling world of career options awaited me.

But the cards were stacked against the girls of the 1960s.

Mad Men’s Peggy Olsen may have scored a corner office in a big Madison Avenue office , but the options presented to a real life girl in 1966 were less than thrilling.

1960s toys games career girls

The 6 exciting career options offered in this game just for girls included  nursing school to become a nurse, drama school to become an actress, college to become a teacher, ballet school to become a ballet dancer, airline training school to become an airline stewardess or everyone’s favorite, sashaying off to charm school to become a model.

Charm school would clearly serve you well in securing a job in all the other fields which also seemed to  require the oh-so important arts of visual poise, grace and charm, voice and diction, grooming essentials, figure control make up and hair styling and other social skills that would help you attain your goals more quickly and readily.

1960s toys games career girls nurse, stewardess, actress

In the dog eat dog game world of high stake careers, girls competed by being the first to collect school, personality, and subject cards for specific careers.

1960s toys games career choices

Subject Cards For What Shall I Be? Board Game . Other cards included, You don’t speak clearly, you have poor posture, Hair styling is good, Good fashion

The games consisted of 30 School Cards, 16 round subject cards and 16 heart-shaped personality cards

1960s game pieces toys game career

Personality cards for the came What Shall I Be? Cards were collected when you landed on a spot “Take heart card” Other cards included “You are Pretty,” “You are Clumsy”, “You are not Considerate,” and “You Have Patience”

The game ended when one lucky player had collected 4 school cards of one profession and 2 subject cards and two personality cards that were good for that profession.  After that, the sky’s the limit!

There was a version of what Shall I be  for boys the exciting career game for boys. Options for boys included going to law school to become a statesman, graduate school to become a scientist,medical school to become a doctor, college to become an athlete, technical school to become an engineer or flight school to become an astronaut.

Exciting Careers

The board game merely reflected what we viewed in the media at large. Flipping through Seventeen Magazine were the real life ads for exciting careers.

careers airlines

career airline slow thinker

career models charm school

career modeling overweight

careers nursing

In a few short years girls would rebel against the cards we were dealt. The woman’s movement would be the wild card in the future.




  1. We can laugh now, but a friend of mine’s application to study to become an engineer was accepted at a university. She had excellent grades (was valedictorian of her class). She wrote her name as Pat on the initial application. Pat for Patricia. When the school learned Pat was Patricia, they then rejected her application because women couldn’t become engineers, they told her! That was in 1965. (I’m sure they must have at more enlightened universities, but maybe not.)


  2. This same person was a mathematical whiz and a very competent developer of process standards in the factory where we worked. Her level of understanding was so dead on and intuitive that engineers deferred to her on the matter of product design because she understood (through hard work and long hours of studying and working production processes) how designs of different products rarely matched theoretical builds on the specifications developed by the engineers.

    Her recommendations on where to build certain quirky products resulted in millions of dollars of sales of consistent and workable products that built to the engineers’ theoretical builds would have been scrap or problematic for other reasons related to fitness for use. That is no exaggeration.

    In time, the smart engineers sent her the specifications with the instructions to note what she felt needed to be changed to improve processability.

    One engineer who relied heavily on her insights and process knowledge to produce the best possible outcomes for new or improved specifications made the mistake of telling a third party, “Pat couldn’t possibly did that [design a valid product specification] because she doesn’t have a degree. Though she went on to get her degree subsequently – for her own gratification, not because it helped her do her work better – she, true, wasn’t a degreed engineer when he made the mistake of saying that. So, for the next half year or so (until be blubbered out an apology…!), she threw the words back in his face. “Oh I can’t possibly improve on your design, John! I don’t have a degree after all.”

    His success rate for getting new designs approved suffered considerably during that period, and Pat only alluded to issues when she felt they related to the safety of the end users. She let him figure out why things didn’t work the way they theoretically did on this designs, but didn’t share her knowledge or experience producing experimental runs beyond noting the bare minimum of details.

    Needless to say, John learned a hard lesson, and began to pay proper respect for the work she did for him. His success rate began to return to old levels once he acknowledged her contribution (and she returned to making judgements about the design and processability of his products, and giving him suggestions based on her personal efforts to improve those characteristics).

    Myself, I had a great working relationship with Pat because I understood her to be THE expert on process in our plant and, frankly, pretty much the company. I shared what I learned from teardowns of customer returns and process data analysis, and she shared with me process and design knowledge, a team approach that helped us both do our jobs better. (It helped that we both found process incredibly fascinating, loved statistical process control techniques, enjoyed the challenges of our jobs, approached similar issues from slightly different angles — technical vs. quality; design vs. enforcement of quality standards — and shared a decades long friendship to boot.)


  3. macdundas

    weggieboy, this is not purely a “woman’s problem” though is it. Heard a very similar story some years ago about a guy at a glass factory – specialised designs needed constantly for high-rise buildings, architect-designed homes – without the formal qualifications, but with the manufacturing skill and experience to identify and eliminate errors by the design engineers. Like Pat, he had to withdraw his expertise for a period to get the engineers’ undivided attention and acknowledgment.
    So, not a “woman’s problem”, but more a problem that ignorant people’s misplaced pride in degrees can blind them to their own shortcomings and others’ virtues.


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