Thursday, June 7, 2012

74 Years Ago Today - Female Animator Rejection Letter

It was early 1938 and Disney's Snow White was breaking ticket sale records around the world. Interest in animated films was piqued. Even stalled projects such as Gulliver's Travels at the Fleischer Studios were now being green lighted. So it was in this atmosphere of great excitement and hope that a young woman named Mary Ford wrote the Disney Studio to apply for a job as an animator.

She would received a letter back, dated June 7, 1938, but the rest of the world wouldn't find out about it until after Mary had passed away, nearly 70 years later. Kevin Burg, Miss Ford's grandson posted it online and mentioned that the letter wasn't discovered until after her death.

Written on Disney Company stationery with a Snow White letterhead, Mary received a rejection letter, and by today's standards, a very difficult one to take. Mary Cleane of Disney's Human Resource Department signed the letter which outright rejects Mary Ford's request to be an animator. Why? Because she was female. Ouch!
Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen...

The only work open to woman consists of tracing characters on clear celluloid sheets with Indian ink and filling in the tracings on the reverse side with paint according to directions.

Letter Scan copyright Kevin Burg.

Interestingly, it appears that this rejection was not unique but rather a form letter. The same one was sent out to a Miss Frances Brewer in 1939. And it too was signed by Mary Cleane...

Image via animation guild blog.

While the world we live in today is far from perfect, it's hard to imagine such an openly discriminatory rejection letter being issued now by Disney or any major corporation. This is not to say that people are free from being discriminated against. Hardly. Yet, we have made some progress from those early days of animation in 1938.


  1. Wow, that is disturbing! Thankfully we have come a long way since than. But I do love the stationary

  2. Very cool stationary, but how awful that must have been to receive such a rejection....and just because of your sex.

  3. You always hear about the good old boy network that existed at Disney back in the day, but to see it in print like this is really sad.

  4. The phrase, Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen," is amusingly ironic, since it was the suggestions of the Paint & Ink "girls" that helped make Snow White so beautiful. They were the ones to suggest and contribute the blush on her cheeks and the dry brush highlights that softened her black hair. But I guess that is not creative work.

  5. So heartbreaking! On a totally unrelated note, i was trawling the web the other day and came across this SW tablecloth and matching napkins, dated 1962. I'm sure you've probably seen it before, but thought you might be interested.

  6. is amazing how much women were denied! Dang!!

  7. Wacky tacky-- Thanks for the table cloth link. I hadn't seen it before. I inquired about getting larger pics from them. If they respond, I'll do a post.

  8. I know it was a long time ago, the Great Depression, different cultural norms...but it's still a bit shocking to see this kind of discrimination in print. Imagine the female artists who, if given the chance, might have become the next Fred Moore or Bill Tytla. I'm glad we have a bit understanding today.

  9. If you take a closer look at the circumstances and read the letter carefully, a much different picture emerges. There were hundreds of very capable, talented young women and men working on Disney animated features in 1937 and 38, and thousands more looking for work. The work of the Ink and Paint Department was critical, as it was the next step in the film production process of taking individual black and white drawings done by Walt's Nine Old Men (who were actually young men) and creating two dozen full color cells from each - totaling over a million for Snow White - needed at the rate of almost 2000 a day. This is why Mary Cleare advises both applicants to *show up with examples of their work*. The letter isn't a rejection, as some would suggest and it wasn't written by Walt, who by this time was largely rmoved from day to day operations. He was keenly aware of the value of the Ink and Paint Girls, having married one himself and hiring her sister to run the department. For more details on the actual conditions of the time, I suggest the article in the March 2010 Vanity Fair at:

    1. Well said Dexter. Of course times were different back then, but the Ink & Paint Department was indeed made up of the best, most talented artists too (all of whom just happened to be women). What they accomplished is nothing short of phenomenal. '

      Thanks for sharing.