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Personal Observations of Secretaries Then and Now

Updated on July 8, 2014

This is a piece in praise of


No, secretaries do not look like this either


Looking back

It was a big deal when women got the vote on August 18, 1920, when the 19th Amendment was ratified freeing all females to have the same right (as men) to vote for the candidate of their choice, or even to vote for their favorite candidate who turned out to be a liar, a jerk, and able to talk out of both sides of his mouth. (Note: I used the word “his” because the percentage of females who ran for political office in the 20’s was embarrassingly-low).

Now skip ahead to the 1950’s when a woman dressed like Donna Reed, pearls and all, stood in her kitchen, after serving her husband and family another feast, and looked directly into her husband’s eyes and said, “Hal, you work. Why can’t I work?” Oh, wouldn’t you have loved to be a slice of bacon on a platter to hear that exchange?

You want to hear more of that exchange between housewife, “Dottie,” and husband, “Hal”?


Taking dictation is still a part of the secretaries' job


More from "Dotty" and "Hal"

Hal: “Dotty,” get some sense. I am a man. It’s my place to support you and the kids. Who has poisoned your mind? Ohh, I get it. Some of those soap operas you watch between chores during the day—they are trying to brainwash you.”

Dotty: “No, huuneee, it’s not like that at all. I just want more for my life. Not that I do not enjoy cooking, cleaning, and being your wife and the kids’ mother, but for me personally, I just feel that I can work as a secretary in the city—we can still have a family and love life, Hal. Please, let me get a secretary’s job?”

Hal: “Sooo, I see it now. It’s all too clear. You want to sleep with bosses like those women in your Hollywood Digest magazine. Well, no dice, sister. You are NOT working as a secretary or anything else. That’s final.”

And it was final for “Hal.” He had forgotten that “Dotty,” had loads of secretarial skills that she used as a single woman working in the local elementary school office before she met him and gave up her typing, filing, and greeting the public.

In the next two weeks, things changed drastically for “Hal” and “Dotty.” She “did” get a lucrative secretary’s job paying her $125.00 a week with options for company-paid life insurance and other benefits. “Hal,” thanks to his stubborn male pride, filed for divorce and moved to New Jersey, quite a change from living in Cleveland, Ohio, but that’s the breaks. “Hal’s” and “Dottie’s” kids stayed with “Dotty,” and “Hal” called them once a week to keep his fatherly-image intact.

"If I had worn my good suit, she would have let me see the boss."


Drastic changes mean forward progress

Secretaries then, in the “old days,” 1950’s to be exact, looked like cardboard-cut-out’s. They all wore their hair the same way: bangs, swept back and flipped at the ends, little make-up, for no American company (then) wanted new clients to see a whore as the first person who greets them, and dresses, below the knees, and definitely no pants. And high heels, which was standard-equipment for all up and coming secretaries.

Secretaries now, in the “modern days,” 2014 to be exact, look as individual as the rainbow. No two secretaries, even male secretaries, yeah, now we got male secretaries, dress alike. All secretaries look professional, relaxed, and sharp-minded as an early IBM computer. Secretaries, just women, only wear high heels if they choose. It’s not a rule cut into granite.

Facts about Early Secretaries:

  • These girls not only typed, filed, took dictation from her boss, but worked on weekends, made coffee every morning, picked-up the boss’ dry cleaning and lunch if he wanted, and even carried his kids to doctor’s appointments when necessary.
  • Secretaries were feared by all “Road men,” or travelling salesmen. They were the first person they seen when entering a potential client’s office. Thanks to early secretaries, sales of Listerine and other breath-fresheners sky-rocketed and the traders on Wall Street came home with bags of cash.
  • One secretary could make or break any salesman, product rep, or an old college buddy who just wanted to hang-out with the boss to relive those days of midnight panty raids and drinking homemade moonshine smuggled into their dorm. The secretary had the power to say, “He’s not in, (referring to her boss), but you can leave a message.” And the doofus would do just that. Leave his name and number for her to give to her boss, but as soon as his butt cleared her office, she conveniently dropped the note into her trash. Boom! Another successful sale “down the tubes.”
  • Secretaries in the 50’s may not have looked the part, but underneath their feminine warfare laid the heart of a Great White shark. When a “newbie,” girl bounced into the secretarial pool and posed a threat to the rest of the secretaries “paying dues” to be chosen by an executive “on the carpet,” all she had to do was drop a few negative remarks into the right ear and bam! The sweet little “newbie,” was gone to seek employment elsewhere—maybe being an Avon lady, not a bad gig, but terrible on the legs.

Early forms of sexual harassment


Secretaries of today: "More power to you!"

Facts about Today’s Secretaries:

  • “Mr. Cocky Ink Pen Salesman,” you do not bully your way into seeing the purchasing agent if the secretary says, “he’s not in today,” without looking up from her typing. No amount of begging, crying, deal-making or favors-offered will get you entrance to the one man whom your job depends on. Oh, she will give him your name and note and you pray to God as you leave that she will be decent-enough to give it to the purchasing agent, but you will spend a few sleepless nights for you know how her kind works. Maybe if you had worn a better suit or cologne, she would have been more flexible. You know what’s funny? The purchasing agent was in his office all of the time.
  • Today’s secretaries do not make coffee for anyone.
  • Today’s secretaries are not referred to as a “Girl Friday,” and can sue the boss or even the C.E.O. for sexual harassment.
  • Secretaries of 2014 do not do personal errands for the boss, C.E.O, or even their closest female friend who runs the Human Resources Department.

"Buzz," I'm not that type of girl. I need to keep my integrity intact even off of the job."


Secretaries have changed. Get used to it.

In short, the changes in secretaries of the 50’s to 2014 are as visible as daylight and dark. The women who made-up a vital part of the workforce (and still do) pioneered the way for women to be empowered, anointed, and given that inner-confidence to boldly say, “I am an important employee at my company, but I am also a woman too.”

These women have the best of both worlds and we men might as well face up to the facts that the day of a little flirting with “Miss Donaldson,” the single-gal out front, will gain you entrance to the boss whom you can lie to about your so-called “time-saving” business machine garnering you a huge sales commission and a bottle of the finest whiskey for the boss.

Words and Phrases Not to be Used with Today’s Secretaries:

  • Sweetie
  • Baby
  • Dumpling
  • Darling
  • Babe
  • Love that dress—just short enough to drive me nuts
  • I could just kiss you all over

Make a note, male salesmen. If you dare to be stupid enough to use one or all of these dangerous words or phrases, then you must not fear being sued by a mousy-looking secretary named “Lilah,” seeking justice for sexual harassment thrown at her by you, who will most assuredly lose your job, respect in the community, church and at home.

Wake up, men still living in the past. Times have changed.

Secretaries, be it personal secretaries or assistants to the boss or office manager, they are not just “an” important part of their company.

These women are THE most-important part of their companies.

Coming soon . . .”Coping and Dealing With a Pushy Neighbor.”


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    • kenneth avery profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenneth Avery 

      4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Dear craiglyn,

      First, thank you for reading and commenting on this piece.

      Secondly, I admire you so much for sticking to the same job for some long. That, my dear friend, is called dedication. I thought 23 years in the newspaper business was a long time. And it was, but you had more to do with society than I did.

      You really got me to thinking too.

      I recall a time when pants were taboo for women to wear--even in the early textile plants/sewing factories. I heard that one woman who was really condemned for wearing slacks by this church-going woman, and I am not saying anything about her, but the woman wearing the slacks said to her, "which is worse, wearing the slacks to cover my nakedness or wear a dress that might expose to some man my womanhood?" That was the end of that discussion.

      I am so glad that you and I are friends.

      Thank you from the heart, for your sweet comments. May God bless you richly.

    • craiglyn profile image


      4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Oh now, I really identified with this lovely hub. I started working as a secretary in 1964 at the ripe old age of 19 right out of high school. We were told by the guidance counsellor to wear little white gloves to our interviews. LOL. Anyway, we did wear dresses, blouses and skirts and high heeled shoes and absolutely no "pants" allowed. When that was finally allowed it had to be "pant suits". I worked right up to 1992 in the same office - 28 years later I saw a lot of changes - even one supervisor (who sailed with her husband on the weekends) coming into work on Fridays with white jeans - and a pink Tshirt that spelled "soft touch" across her bosom. Jeepers!! And there was the "senior" insurance agent who bemoaned to me one day "you can't even tell a girl she looks nice anymore." hmmm Great hub Kenneth - gave me lots of memories once again.

    • kenneth avery profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenneth Avery 

      4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      My Dear Sparklea,

      (and I mean that with respect too!)

      I am totally-sorry for how those "women" treated you and the men too. Might as well get them all in one sweep.

      I admire you for enduring such fiery people and atmosphere.

      I hear what you are saying.

      I had this publisher one time who came from a daily paper and he said his pal bet him twenty-bucks that he could get the secretaries all fighting at day's end, so my boss took his bet.

      All his pal did was, as he and my boss walked past five women typing, was pick out ONE and say, "Jane, I really love your hair," and suddenly the other four instantly glared at her as if she were a disease.

      And then my boss and his pal went to lunch.

      And by 3 p.m. my boss said his pal, who won the bet, walked past the office where these women were working and what women were not snotty and snippy were cursing and calling "Jane" a sorry whore and all the while, "Jane," was bent over her typesetting machine in tears.

      I never knew that women LIKE THESE and those you supervised were so competitive. Is that the right word?

      On behalf of men everywhere, sparklea, I am sorry.

      And listen. Not joking. "I appreciate YOU very much."


    • kenneth avery profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenneth Avery 

      4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, sheilamyers,

      You are 100% correct about companies going out of business if it were not for secretaries.

      And doing the things bosses should be doing.

      But things like fetching copies, making coffee, etc., are not part of a secretary's job--I do not care what or whom they work for.

      And I join you in saying Thanks to All Administrative Assistants in HubPages and the country.

    • kenneth avery profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenneth Avery 

      4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama


      Administrative Assistants? I have also heard the title: Corporate Tech's. And I guess your husband did complain about an administrative Assistant not letting him to see the boss.

      In my radio spot selling days, I have encountered some of those girls, oops, I mean, persons.

    • kenneth avery profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenneth Avery 

      4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama


      Thanks for the comment, but just what does "matronly" mean?

    • kenneth avery profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenneth Avery 

      4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, Brandon,

      You are welcome, but it is I whom is blessed with your following and friendship.

      Did you do what MizBeJabbers said? Just go to my Profile page, look down and see the Fan Mail, click it and then go to town.

      And thanks for the compliment about learning from me. Listen. You and I can learn tons from the writers who are on my hub commenting.

      I am serious.

      Thanks for the comment.

    • kenneth avery profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenneth Avery 

      4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Dear PegCole17,

      I know that you are not an old woman, but your references to vintage secretaries, heels, perfume, stockings, were JUST how those hard-working secretaries of olden days were thought of: Sex objects who had to sleep with Mr. Boss to get a raise.

      God help the fat boss who got to the top using women and never repented.

      Women are people. Valuable people.

      Sorry. I just get carried away.

      I get your point, Peg. Thanks.

    • kenneth avery profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenneth Avery 

      4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, Pamela,

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts on ideas.

      Well, political-correctness is a way of life and if secretaries want to change the title, great. I think they have earned it.

      Thanks again.

    • kenneth avery profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenneth Avery 

      4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama


      Wow, what an exciting life you have led. Thanks for the sweet comment. Secretaries were once used, abused and taken for granted.

      Not anymore, at least they are not from all of the info I have read.

      Thanks for your opinions, friendship, following and talent.

    • kenneth avery profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenneth Avery 

      4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      grand old lady (who is NOT old)

      You are right, but by the same token, there is nothing wrong with a woman being the boss.

      That is how I was raised. If you disagree, I still respect you.

      Thanks for stopping in.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      4 years ago from Philippines

      Love the contrast between secretaries before and then. I remember when being a secretary was a great aspiration. Not anymore, women wanna be the boss:).

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James-MizBejabbers 

      4 years ago from Beautiful South

      @Sparklea, I'm so sorry that you had bad experiences with your secretarial career. My mother wanted me to be a secretary like she had been. I knew would be a BAD secretary because I was a terrible typist and didn't know shorthand. However, I did work a couple of secretarial gigs between broadcasting jobs and didn't like it either. Maybe that's why I appreciate ours so much.

      I learned how to take dictation on the typewriter when I was taking radio copy from clients over the phone. Typos were OK because I was the ad writer, and I was faster than the secretary who took shorthand and transcribed the raw copy and handed it to me.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I think most companies would go under if it wasn't for the secretaries / receptionists. Not many higher ups could get any work done if they had to do all of that stuff for themselves. My thanks to all of the secretaries out there.

    • Sparklea profile image


      4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Hi Ken, this is a great hub, but I have to tell you, I went to college to please my grandfather who raised me...decided to major in Secretarial I have been a 'secretary' all my life. I had NO interest in secretarial work! Secretaries were demeaned...I still have PTSD from being one. In the 1980s I worked with nine doctors, and I was called a 'peasant' to my face by one of the MD's. I supervised two women.


      Being a secretarial supervisor is worse than hell. The backstabbing, gossip, women complaining about hating their jobs...I could go on and on. In my personal opinion, the worst job in the world is secretarial!

      My dream had been to be an airline stewardess, but I fell in love in my Senior year in college, got married right after graduation, had two children...then my husband divorced me for his...guess who?....Secretary!

      After 30 years of hell, I took a very early incentive and quit forever. It took me 8 seconds to adjust to not the time I reached my car on my last day I was adjusted.

      My supervisor gave me outstanding evaluations...I was lovely to everyone, but dying inside at the way women behaved...even toward me at times.

      Secretaries Day was super hell. Women in other departments who did not get recognized were angry at those who did. If you want to see how women really behave in the work place, just enter a building with secretaries. They are not ALL bad, but it is a thankless job. Very under appreciated. When my boss wanted to give me an 'outstanding' evaluation, his boss said, "NO secretary deserves an outstanding evaluation." But he gave it to me anyway.

      To this day, every time, in April, when I see signs that say, "Secretaries Day" in the stores I get a knot in my stomach.

      ONE GOOD THING THOUGH: I took 3 years of shorthand in high school and two years in college. I was excellent at it and aced it in college. I use it to this day. Call me up, and I can write down everything you say in shorthand unless you are a real fast talker.

      All this being said, your hubs are great. I just read MizBejabbers comment, and if I had a nickel for every time I heard a female say, "I am JUST a secretary, I would be wealthy." But that is how secretaries are made to feel. The higher ups treat them like pond scum. God bless, Sparklea

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James-MizBejabbers 

      4 years ago from Beautiful South

      @brandon, go to Ken's profile page, click on "follow" and the fan mail thingy will automatically come up. I'm sure Ken would appreciate it.

      Hey Ken, didn't you know there is no such thing as a secretary. They are now "administrative assistants". (Political correctness reigns!) The administrative assistant in our department became my best friend 20 years ago and still makes coffee. She is a coffee addict herself and has never minded making coffee. Anyway, she laughs and says she is still "just a secretary" although she has a bachelor of science degree in office management. Thank goodness she is a little younger than I am so I'll retire first. I don't know what we would do without her!

      But your profile of the old-time secretary is right on the ball. My first husband used to complain that the secretary was just put there to keep him from seeing the boss! Voted up and funny.

    • brandonkey profile image

      Brandon Key 

      4 years ago from Sanford, NC

      Thank you for your comment Kenneth, it means more to me than you know. I tried to leave you some fanmail but I'm new to the site and couldn't figure out how to do it, lol. But this hub was awesome, I can definitely learn a great amount from a writer like you! Maybe I'll figure out to leave fanmail sometime today.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      My first secretary was with me for twelve years and she was a real matron.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      4 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Kenneth, you're right about times changing. Even the title "secretary" is now deemed unacceptable. Not to me, of course, as I held the title way back when, maybe not that far back, but far enough to remember the heels and stockings and hair-do, perhaps, yes to those. And, by the way, I was later the "guy" behind the glass door that was named Purchasing Agent.

    • Pamela Bush profile image


      4 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      Very Cute! So many things have changed in the terms of "political correctness" of the years. It is quite humorous to see how society has turned a little friendly joking and gesturing into a crime. I have little hope for the future of coed and co-worker relationships reshaping into a unit that accepts some personality. Likely, if society continues in this direction the term "professionalism" in the work environment will be defined as a "total numbing lack of emotion expressed between co-workers of opposite gender."


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