Heaven Protects the Working Girl, But She Still Has to Learn to Type

Today’s post is the fourth in a series marking Administrative Professionals Week and written by Ketina Taylor (Archivist) and Jenny Sweeney (Education Specialist) of the National Archives at Fort Worth. Don’t miss their posts from day oneday two and day three.

First two pages from the publication The Modern Secretary, produced by the School Department of the Royal Typewriter division (online catalog identifier 7280719).

The typical everyday world for the 1950s and 1960s secretary evolved around shorthand, dictation, memos, schedules, and business letters. Besides the telephone, the typewriter was the main tool of the trade for these office women. Pamphlets found among the records of the Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training (RG 300) highlight the importance of the typewriter as the tool that made women’s jobs easier and more efficient.

Companies such as Remington Rand and Royal McBee Corporation produced pamphlets clearly geared toward women readers. In Remington Rand’s pamphlet “A Brief History of the Typewriter,” the historical struggle for women to transition to office work is considered with the statement, “The female mind and constitution were considered ‘too frail’ to survive a six months course in typing! However, six Remington typewriters and six ‘strong women’ made short work of that theory” (online catalog identifier 7280709). “The Modern Secretary,” by Royal McBee, starts with the statement, “Heaven protects the poor working girl,” and continues with a brief history of the deplorable working conditions for female workers of the early 20th century. Triumphantly, the pamphlet states, “The emergence of the typewriter in American business was a major factor in the eventual emancipation of women. The typewriter gave women a chance to exhibit their ability and superiority in a job that had predominately been handled by men” (online catalog identifier 7280719). The underlying message of these pamphlets is for women to understand how the typewriter was responsible for their current success in a man’s business world.

Typing instructions from the publication The Modern Secretary (online catalog identifier 7280719).

These pamphlets also served as a platform to market the most current typewriters, accessories, and procedures for maximizing efficiency. The “Typewriter Family Tree” that is included in Remington’s publication allowed readers to see the evolution of the typewriter from 1872 to its most current models, which were electric and even noiseless in 1958 (online catalog identifier 7280709). Helpful hints for secretaries such as “How to Improve Manual/Electric Typing” and “How to Set Up a Business Letter” were also included in the Royal McBee publication (online catalog identifier 7280719).

Many people today have never typed on an actual typewriter. The introduction of the personal computer into both the office and home made the once-necessary tool of the business world obsolete. No doubt, secretaries everywhere are thankful they no longer have to fight with triplicate forms and carbon paper!

Illustration from a 12-page pamphlet entitled “A Brief History of the Typewriter,” produced by Remington Rand (online catalog identifier 7280709).