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July 11, 2020

Read the Rejection Letters Disney Used to Send Any Woman Who Wanted to Be an Animator in the Late 1930s

In 1938, Miss Mary V. Ford of Searcy, Arkansas received a rejection letter from Walt Disney Productions letting her know that women have no chance of working in the creative area of their Inking and Painting Department and only a smidgen of a chance of tracing and filling in celluloids, “the only work open to women.” The letter, ironically signed by a different woman named “Mary,” was discovered by Ms. Ford’s grandson Kevin Burg after she died.

Burg said his grandmother had never told him of the rejection and went on to raise her family. He told the Huffington Post UK she never pursued art as a career “but had a lifelong appreciation for art which she passed along to me. We don’t have any examples of her work but I remember she would create beautiful sketches or doodles in a very 1940s or 1950s fashion illustration style.”

He added “I think the letter is as fascinating as it is beautiful. My understanding is at the time Disney wasn’t hiring ANY animators because they still had their famous Nine Old Men. She only mentioned the letter to my mom, but not my dad or aunt (her two children). When my grandmother passed away my mom found the letter and framed it. If she hadn’t told anyone it could have been lost or given away.”

(Image courtesy of Kevin Burg)

Here’s Disney’s 1938 rejection letter in full:
Miss Mary T. Ford

Dear Miss Ford,

Your letter of recent date has been received in the Inking and Painting Department for reply.

Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that work is performed entirely by young men. For this reason girls are not considered for the training school.

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

In order to apply for a position as “Inker” or “Painter” it is necessary that one appear at the Studio, bringing samples of pen and ink and water color work. It would not be advisable to come to Hollywood with the above specifically in view, as there are really very few openings in comparison with the number of girls who apply.

Yours very truly,



[Mary Cleave]

Almost an exact version of it was sent to Miss Frances Brewer of Van Nuys, California in 1939, although on significantly less-cool letterhead.

(Image courtesy of the Animation Guild)

Although female animators have come a long way from the time when Disney sent out rejection letters, the climate shift within the animation industry is progressing very slowly.

During the 1930s, women were only employed as inkers and painters at Disney. They were discouraged from being animators and were not permitted inside the animation building unless it concerned business. It was not until 1941, with the outbreak of war, that Disney started training women in animation to maintain a pool of workers while the men had gone to war.

Today, according to Los Angeles Magazine, 70% of animation students from CalArts Valencia campus, 66% of animation students from UCLA, and 55% of animation students from USC are all female. Despite the rapidly growing female population studying animation, industry statistics still reflect poorly from achieving gender parity.


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