The challenges didn’t end there. When looking for a position, future employers asked whether she’d taken shorthand and typing in college. She hadn’t. “I wanted a real position,” Ostrom recalled. “I didn’t want to end up being a secretary for the rest of my life.” But in those days, it wasn’t appropriate for a woman to aim for more. Ostrom didn’t care, and finally got a job in a business firm “that had never hired a woman in anything but a secretarial position”. Still in her early twenties, she “talked her way” into a position as an assistant personnel manager, which was the start of her highly successful career.
Ostrom had taken her first economics course during her final year as an undergraduate. And she’d liked it. So much so that she thought about applying for a PhD. At UCLA, however, she found herself in a rather hostile environment. “A lot of the faculty didn’t like having women on the program. They just said no,” partly because Ostrom hadn’t taken any math in college, nor had she taken trigonometry in high school. The Political Science department was also rather skeptical about admitting women, but gave her a chance.
During grad school, Elinor met Vincent Ostrom, who would become her second husband, and professional partner in crime. It was also as a graduate student that she was introduced to the question of how to organize a common resource, and the related research and field work would earn her the Nobel Prize four decades later.