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Friday, August 11, 2017

Robbie's View of Penny as His Potential Wife

Robbie Gould and Penny Johnson were working on summer jobs at the Kellerman's resort hotel in 1963. During June they began going steady with each other. As their sexual relationship progressed home base, Robbie pondered the possibility of marrying Penny.

Robbie was not rich. Although he was enrolled in Yale medical school, but he had to work as a summer waiter in order to earn some money. When he eventually learned that Penny was pregnant, he was not able to immediately provide the $250 she needed for an abortion.

As Robbie considered marrying Penny, an important consideration was that she might be able to work and earn money while he attended classes and studied.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, such a wife was said to be earning her PhT (Putting Hubby Through) degree while her husband was earning his PhD (Philosphiae Doctor). Such women called themselves "dames". Wofford College's website has published an article titled "Putting Hubby Though", which includes the following passages and illustrations (click on the images to enlarge them).
... “PHT,” you ask? What kind of degree is that?

It stands for “putting hubby through” – and it only makes sense in a certain era, when the student body was all male and, in the aftermath of World War II, full of veterans. Many students in the ten or fifteen years after the war were married, and the campus provided married student apartments. ...

The wives of the Wofford students formed a community of their own. In 1946, with the help of the wives of some of the faculty members, the wives of the students formed the Wofford Dames. They often took on service projects, and they raised funds for a special loan fund for married students.
The Wofford Dames in 1952
Even as late as the early 1960s, a large enough group of married students were on campus that an honorary degree of “PHT” was still being given. One can see the signatures of the president of the college, the dean of students, and the president of the student body on the certificate. ...
A PHT Degree awarded in 1964 

Below is a photograph of students' wives being awarded PHT degrees at the University of Florida (UF) in 1960.

PHT ceremony at the University of Florida in 1960
The UF webpage describes the photograph as follows:
While UF honored its male graduates, the University Dames recognized supportive wives with "Putting Husband Through" degrees in ceremonies like this one in 1960. Awarded for their "loyal support and unfailing patience," these women often worked and raised families while their husbands attended class.

The Dames, sponsored by the University Women's Club, organized in 1948 and helped women learn skills needed for their husbands' future professions through monthly talks on everything from meat purchasing to home decor. The Dames later disbanded ....
One woman describes the situation she encountered as a Radcliffe graduate in 1958 -- five years before the Dirty Dancing story.
Access to graduate school was by no means assured. At Harvard, the Business School was the only one that actually closed its doors to women, although the Harvard Business School Wives Club awarded its members a Ph.T. (Putting Hubby Through) diploma, a mimeographed document suitable for display on the refrigerator, not in the executive suite.

The other graduate schools, apart from the School of Education, had only token women. I considered law, but my father, a lawyer himself, declared, "I would rather throw the money away in Las Vegas than give it to you for law school. The law is not for women."

Although Penny was extremely beautiful, talented and feminine, Robbie's main consideration about her as a potential wife might have been her money-earning ability during his medical-school years. Maybe that is why her character was given the only female monetary name -- Penny.

Robbie did not want to keep working as a waiter while he attended medical school. When he first saw Penny at Kellerman's, she surely gave him the impression that she was financially comfortable. She worked as a professional performer and instructor of dance. She was dressed and groomed in an expensive manner.

 After Robbie went steady with Penny for several weeks, however, he gradually learned from her that she could barely support herself through the year. She earned good money in the summers, but she could barely pay her rent during the rest of the year.

Furthermore, since Penny had spent her young adulthood dancing, she had not obtained the education to work at a steady job as a teacher, nurse, secretary and so forth.

The best non-dancing job Penny could get was as a waitress. She was as limited as Johnny Castle, whose only alternative non-dancing job was as a house painter.

Robbie's belated realization that Penny's earning ability was very limited was a main factor in his disenchantment with her. He calculated that he would be better off to find and marry a nurse while he was attending medical school.


If Penny was about 25 years old when she met Robbie, then what were her non-dancing employment prospects during the following years as Robbie attended medical school? A book titled the 1965 Handbook on Women Workers, published by the US Department of Labor, provides relevant information:

Cover of the
"1965 Handbook on Women Workers"
* Only 38% of women of ages 25-38 were in the labor force (page 18).

* Only 29% of married women of ages 25-29 were in the labor force (page 24).

* Work-related expenses -- clothing, personal care, food, transportation, etc. -- take at least a quarter of a working woman's earnings (page 32).

* The turn-over rate for women workers was about twice as high as for men workers (page 67).

* The unemployment rate for women of ages 25 to 34 was 6.3% but for men was only 3.5% (page 73).

* The unemployment rate for waitresses (Penny's best option) was 8.0%, compared to much lower unemployment rates for secretaries (1.2%), elementary-school teachers (0.7%), bookkeepers (2.5%), nurses (1.6%), typists (3.9%),  stenographers (2.1%), and telephone operators (4.0%) (page 79).

* The median earnings of women were only about a third of those of men (page 125).

* Waitress wages ranged from 22¢ to $1.50 an hour, plus tips. In New York City the average wage was 80¢ (page 144).

* Only 16.3% of women had attended any college (page 172).

In general, young married women could help earn money for their families, but they struggled to do so.


If Robbie came to think that Penny would not earn a good steady income as a dancer and that she did not have the practical education and work experience to get a good job, then his initial evaluation of her monetary worth as a potential wife was severely reduced.

Furthermore, if she decided that she wanted children soon in their relationship, then she might become a financial burden to him during his medical-school years.


Beyond monetary considerations, Robbie surely came to think that Penny never would share his intellectual interests. Robbie admired the novelist Ayn Rand and wanted to discuss Rand's long, philosophical novels intelligently with women. If he lent Rand's The Fountainhead to Penny, then she never was able to read more than a dozen pages.

If Penny read anything at all, she read only romance novels. After she began going steady with Robbie, she probably read with great interest the 1962 sappy novel Dr. Kildare's Secret Romance.

The cover of "Dr. Kildare's Secret Romance",
published in 1962.
Perhaps Penny did not even read enough to read such a novel. Instead, she simply watched the Dr. Kildare television series, which had begun begun broadcasting in September 1961 and would continue through August 1966. Below is a clip from season 3, which was broadcast in late 1963.

The character Dr. James Kildare was not yet a licensed doctor. Rather, he had just graduated from medical school and was working as an intern in a hospital. The Wikipedia article about the television series includes the following passages:
The TV series initially told the story of young intern Dr. James Kildare (Richard Chamberlain) working at the fictional large metropolitan "Blair General Hospital" and trying to learn his profession, deal with patients' problems, and win the respect of the senior Dr. Leonard Gillespie (Raymond Massey).

In the series' first episode, Gillespie tells the earnest Kildare, "Our job is to keep people alive, not to tell them how to live." Kildare ignores the advice, which provides the basis for stories over the next four seasons, many with a soap-opera touch. By the third season, Dr. Kildare was promoted to resident and episodes began to focus less on him and his medical colleagues, and more on the stories of individual patients and their families.

The series quickly became a top ten hit in its first season, and remained in the top 20 during its second and third seasons, drawing as many as 12,000 fan letters each week.

Its success spawned a number of merchandising tie-ins featuring the likeness or endorsement of Chamberlain as Kildare, including novels, comics, toys and games, candy bars, and records of Chamberlain singing songs featured on the show. Chamberlain had a hit single, "Theme from Dr. Kildare (Three Stars Will Shine Tonight)," in which he sang romantic lyrics set to the music from the show's familiar opening theme. Largely as a result of the show, Chamberlain became a teen idol during the 1960s.
If Penny began watching the television series in 1961 and then met and began going steady with medical student Robbie in 1963, she rejoiced that she was being courted by her own real-life Dr. Kildare.

As Robbie himself watched the series and recognized its popularity, in particular among young women, he surely appreciated that he as a medical student and then as an intern would soon become a very desirable man. He eventually would be able to marry a woman who was as beautiful as Penny but who was much more intelligent and classy -- and who perhaps even had family wealth.


The website Science of Relationships has published an article titled Your Ideal Partner: Intelligence Edition, written by psychology professor Dr. Gary Lewandowski. The article indicates that young men tend to become increasingly dissatisfied with their girlfriends' intelligence. The article includes the following passage:
I enlisted the help of the Monmouth University Polling Institute and asked the following question to over 800 adults across the United States: Who is the ideal person to marry - someone a lot less smart than you, someone slightly less smart than you, someone equally as smart as you, someone slightly smarter than you, or someone a lot smarter than you?

When we asked people about this ...

* most (51%) wanted someone equally as smart,

* while 39% wanted someone slightly or a lot smarter,

* with only 3% wanting someone slightly or a lot less smart

* (8% didn’t know or refused to answer).

Slightly more men (41%) than women (36%) reported wanting a smarter partner, with differences between men and women a bit larger among those already in a relationship (42% of men and 34% of women).

Differences were more noticeable when you compared ages within men and women.

* For example, for men 18-34, 51% wanted a smarter partner, but for men 55 and older, only 27% wanted a smarter partner.

Among women aged 18-34, 39% wanted a smarter partner, but for women 55 and older, only 30% wanted a smarter partner.

Overall, the numbers suggest that men report valuing intelligence slightly more than women do when considering an ideal marriage partner.
Robbie fits this pattern. As a Yale medical student, Robbie was extraordinarily intelligent, whereas Penny was only ordinarily intelligent. As their relationship continued, Robbie became increasingly dissatisfied with Penny's intelligence. Like about half of men his age, he wanted a female partner who was even smarter than himself.


Beyond monetary and intellectual considerations, Robbie might have come to think that he did not trust Penny to remain faithful to him. If she continued her dance career, then she would be
* traveling away from home,

* working on evenings and weekends,

* associating with unsettled and unconventional people,

* engaging in close physical contact with many men,

* dressing in sexually alluring clothing,

* postponing maternity,

* becoming acquainted with successful and wealthy men,

* producers and directors requiring sexual favors on their casting couches,

* generally wallowing in a lifestyle with an extraordinarily high divorce rate.
Because Penny was a professional dancer, she naturally was extraordinarily graceful and even acrobatic in her sexual activities with Robbie. This might have bothered Robbie. Eventually he became convinced that she was very promiscuous sexually and that her pregnancy probably had been caused by some other man.


This article is part of a series of articles about the relationship of Penny and Robbie. The series began with the two-part Why Penny and Robbie Risked Pregnancy and continued with The Movie's Violators of Going-Steady Rules.

The next article in the series (after this article here) is "Going Steady" versus "Going Slumming".

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