Flashback! Secretaries of the 1950s and 1960s: Do You Have What it Takes to be One?

This week we’re publishing a series of posts by Ketina Taylor (Archivist) and Jenny Sweeney (Education Specialist) of the National Archives at Fort Worth.

Secretaries at the Conference of Secretaries in Dallas, Texas in June 1959 (online catalog identifier 7280640).

Today marks the beginning of Administrative Professionals Week.

Since the advent of television and the movies, Americans have come to love secretarial characters from Miss Hathaway in the Beverly Hillbillies to Mrs. Wiggins in The Carol Burnett Show to Jennifer Marlow in WKRP in Cincinnati to Doralee Rhodes in the movie 9 to 5.  More recently, on the show Mad Men, Peggy Olsen is stirring things up: “He may act like he wants a secretary, but most of the time they’re looking for something between a mother and a waitress,” (season one).

In 1950, the number one job for American women was the secretarial occupation. The most common job for American women today is still the same (in Hillary Clinton’s world that would have been with a capital “S”). According to the U.S. Census, 96% of the approximately 4 million people who identify themselves today as secretaries (or something similar) are women.

One thing that might have united many secretaries was the specific educational opportunities available to them.  The Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training in the Department of Labor offered secretarial and clerical training programs in various cities across the nation.  The Bureau conducted these programs often as continuing education opportunities for government secretaries.

Among the holdings of the National Archives at Fort Worth are the records of the Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training (RG 300).  These documents, dating from the late 1950s to the late 1960s, offer insights into how secretaries were viewed and trained.  They also offer a glimpse of an era gone by.

Each day this Administrative Professionals Week, we will give you a glimpse of the mid-century secretary.

So do you have what it takes to be a secretary in the 1950s or ’60s?  Take the quiz below (double click on the image to enlarge) and see.

Brooke’s Your Reflector Number I (Personality) Quiz from the Secretarial Training Program in Waco, Texas from January 1959 to June 1959 (Online catalog identifier 7280725).


2 thoughts on “Flashback! Secretaries of the 1950s and 1960s: Do You Have What it Takes to be One?

  1. There’s a typo in the first full paragraph, at “Peggy Moss.” Peggy Olson is the character’s name and Elizabeth Moss is the actress’s name.

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