Teaching and doing digital history.

From The Secretary’s Handbook, 1965

I was cleaning out my home office and I found my grandmother’s Secretary’s Handbook from the 1960s. While I am studying gender and crime in the late 19th century, I tend to always have a soft spot for popular culture and historic text books and how-tos. I wrote my Master’s thesis on how cookbooks conveyed gender norms through the chaos of the Great Depression and World War II and I find that these texts are usually a treasure-trove of gender (and normally historically misogynistic) brainwashing.1

This is a test of a pull quote; it is only a test and has nothing to do with this article.

While it’s not my era at all, with the recent popularity of Mad Men, I thought I’d share the Eighteen Rules for the Efficient Secretary so you can see for yourself.

Often these texts illuminate these things more clearly than any historian could.

  1. She is prompt in all her appointments. She gets to work early and sees that his desk is neatly arranged, all his pencils sharpened and all his pens in good working condition.
  2. She dresses conservatively and uses makeup sparingly; she does not wear conspicuous jewelry or noticeable perfume in the office.
  3. She maintains good posture at her work, in order to avoid fatigue and to present a posed appearance to others.
  4. She plans her work well, so as to avoid hurry and flurry.
  5. She is courteous and tactful to all callers, even those that are unwelcome.
  6. She cultivates a pleasing manner and voice and pays attention to her diction.
  7. She is not abrupt over the telephone nor does she drag out telephone conversations.
  8. She does not make personal telephone calls.
  9. She keeps a dictionary, a book of grammar and usage and a word divider on her desk.
  10. She keeps her office supplies handy and ready for use. She does not take pencils or erasers home for her children to use.
  11. She keeps her desk tidy. All personal items are kept private.
  12. She keeps her typewriter clean and in good working condition. She changes the ribbon promptly when necessary and covers her typewriter when not in use.
  13. She organizes her files methodically, and does her filing carefully.
  14. She does not turn in a letter that is less than letter perfect.
  15. She does not smudge her carbon copies.
  16. She does not gossip.
  17. She does not bring personal affairs to the office.
  18. She does not watch the clock. She will inquire if there is any little thing she can do, before saying good-bye for the day.

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