November 13, 2015

Vintage Office Assistant: 32 Pictures of Secretaries From Before the 1970s

A secretary or personal assistant is a person whose work consists of supporting management, including executives, using a variety of project management, communication, or organizational skills.

In the 1950s, when the first such celebration took place, there was good reason for the American businessman (he was nearly always a man) to want to thank his secretary (nearly always a woman).

As TIME magazine reported in a 1957 article about “The Secretary Shortage: They’re Either Too Pretty or Too Old,” the record number of women entering the workplace during that decade was not translating to a surplus of stenographers. The young, unmarried cohort that had traditionally served as secretaries was particularly small, due to the Depression-era birth-rate decline, and booming post-war business meant that demand was up. In addition, the opening up of a wide range of jobs to female workers meant that the women who were available for jobs were less likely to choose repetitive secretarial work.

By the late 1960s there were more 20-something working women than there had been a decade earlier — but that wasn’t all that had changed. In fact, TIME articles about secretaries of the 1970s are also about the work shortage, despite what was at the time a high unemployment rate. Attitudes toward secretarial work hadn’t caught up with the rise of Women’s Liberation: Secretaries were thought to get little credit for their work and few opportunities to advance. Those young, educated women who had once been lured in with the promise of “Young Execs!” were giving it a pass.

Below is a collection of 32 interesting vintage pictures of women woking in office over the decades...

Woman answering the phone in an office setting wearing cotton blouse and mock linen skirt in complimentary shades of amethyst, ca. 1950s.

Doris Maxwell, secretary at the Alpine Nursing Home, poses for a portrait at her desk, 1970.

Woman in an office.

The daily grind.

Tight quarters for the typists. In typical 1920's get up.

A secretary takes dictation for her boss, ca. 1960s.

Secretary working at typewriter, 1959.

"The Remington Girl," a typist ready to take dictation, 1902.

A room full of typists works on typewriters at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a nuclear development site, ca. 1940s.

A little work in comfort. Professor Albert Einstein dictates to his secretary, long in his employ, Fräulein Helen Dukas, at Coq-sur-Mer, Belgium, where he took refuge from Nazi threats. When Belgian police officials were unable to guarantee his safety from possible Nazi attack, the scientist left for an unrevealed destination in England. Summer 1933.

Gertrude Stein, one of the world's foremost novelists, poses with Alice B. Toklas, and her dog, "Basket," in front of her home in France, 1944. The grand lady of fiction lived in a chateau near Paris during the four years of Nazi occupation, but her identity was kept secret. She has written a new book, part of which Miss Toklas is holding, which will be released for publication shortly.

Office worker.

Employer dictating to his secretary,1907.

Receptionists at the Rest Haven Nursing Home in Spartanville, South Carolina, ca. 1960s.

The Marx Brothers (L-R): Harpo, Groucho, and Chico sit around their secretary while she takes notes, ca. 1930-1950.

President John F. Kennedy dictates as his secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, takes notes, 1960.

Woman typing, ca. 1930s.

Barbara Hale seated at desk, ca. 1940s.

Woman modeling office dress, 1950.

Woman holding steno pad pointing with pencil to clock 5 minutes till quitting time, 1957.

Secretary in front of filing cabinet, filing letters, ca. 1945.

Actress Rosalind Russell as secretary Kendal Browning and actor Brian Aherne as advertising executive Stephen Dexter in the 1940 comedy Hired Wife. In the film, Dexter asks his secretary Kendall to marry him in order to protect his finances during a business deal and she refuses to get an annulment.

A model wears a shantung suit by Radiant as she poses as an office secretary, 1950.

Businessman dictating notes to his secretary in an office.

Woman typing, ca. 1950s.

Businesswoman throwing papers in office.

Stylish secretary in an office ca. 1954.

Working women in the office in Germany, ca. 1935.

A model wears a shantung suit by Radiant as she poses as an office secretary, 1950.

Young secretary working on typing machine.

Two women office workers standing by office water cooler talking, 1940.

French Army WAC Jacqueline Barou has a unique secretarial assignment, 1954. As secretary to the French delegation at the French-Viet Minh Truce talks in Trung Gia, she was the only women taking part in the weighty matters.


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