Friends, is anybody a secretary anymore?
In these days of internet, iPhones, Blackberries, etc., is there really any need for somebody to answer phones, take a letter, or make photocopies?
I don't know anybody who works as a secretary today, and the people I know who work in Corporate America tell me they're even firing the front office receptionists. If your job description includes making coffee and taking dictation, good luck!
It seems the secretary has been relegated to the "naughty" Halloween costume aisle, alongside the "naughty" nurse and French maid. Camp.
Like the American male, union, blue collar worker, the "girl secretary" was more than just an employee -- she was part of Twentieth-Century American culture. She embodied one of the primary paths to women's economic and social emancipation.
There were secretary magazines, secretary dresses, secretary fiction, and of course, secretary movies!
Ginger Rogers won an Academy Award in 1940 for her portrayal of secretary Kitty Foyle in a moving morality tale about the temptations to which working women were vulnerable. (BTW, he won't leave his wife -- ever.)
Joan Crawford played an ambitious secretary in Grand Hotel, one of her most famous roles, repeated by Lana Turner in Week-end at the Waldorf.
Remember Edie Adams as Fred MacMurray's world-weary secretary in The Apartment? Marvelous and heart-breaking! (And he still won't leave his wife.)
The stereotype of secretary as temptress and potential home-wrecker was everywhere in vintage Hollywood movies and TV. How many movies and sitcom episodes revolved around the husband hires beautiful new secretary and wife pitches a fit story? Too many to count!
The no-nonsense, smarter-than-the-boss secretary was another beloved icon -- Eve Arden made an entire career out of playing these types of women.
On TV there was Ann Sothern...
...and Doris Day -- who in movies played career women with big jobs (remember Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back?), but on the small screen took a demotion.
And of course, Mary Tyler Moore. Mary eventually rose through the ranks to become Executive Producer, but she still had to make the coffee.
Secretary styles influenced women's wear for decades -- shirtwaists and modest frocks meant for the working woman. Many were actually called secretary dresses on the pattern.
Ambitious secretaries might read Today's Secretary magazine, where she could learn important tips for improving her skills, pleasing her boss, and looking her prettiest.
She'd see ads like these. Was she using the latest office equipment?
Today there's tremendous nostalgia for secretary style and there are actually entire sewing blogs dedicated to cultivating the vintage secretary look! There's much less nostalgia for the job itself however.
In closing friends, were you or someone you love ever a secretary? (I was, in the Eighties, for the president of a university press.)
How do you feel about secretaries -- was the job a convenient way to keep women with professional aspirations in their place, or was it a true pathway for women into the professional world? (Or both?)
Who are your favorite secretaries from movies and TV? Were you ever influenced by them, either in your style or your professional ambitions?
I want to hear from you -- but don't forget to take lunch, hon!