When the typewriter was introduced in the
mid-1870s, few women worked in business.
As the machine became common in offices during the 1880s,
it not only was associated with financial success in the
workplace, but also encouraged the employment of women in
business. In 1881,
the YWCA in New York City offered a typing course for
working-class women, who saw typing skills as a chance to acquire
higher paying and more prestigious employment than as factory
workers or seamstresses. Salaries
for typists were also higher than for schoolteachers or nurses,
two of the few middle-class occupations open to women.
Employers, however, were initially criticized for
displacing male office workers (considered heads of households)
with lesser-paid females. Office
managers argued that female hands were more nimble than male hands
and therefore better able to manipulate the typewriter keyboard.
Mrs. M. A. Saunders of New York was one of
the first women to became a professional typist, and her talent
soon earned her a position as a sales agent for the typewriter
manufacturing firm of Locke, Yost, & Bates.
The September 26, 1891 issue of Harper’s Weekly
carried an advertisement
for “Ladies and Gentlemen”
to sell Hall typewriters, with the ad illustration showing a woman
operating the machine. By
the end of the 1880s, about 50,000 American women were working in
offices, most as typists or stenographers, and in the early
decades of the twentieth century, women increasingly dominated
clerical positions. Although
jobs as typists and other office staff broadened employment
opportunities for women, they were restricted from climbing up the
corporate ladder once hired.
That situation contrasted with the older business model in
which males often moved upward from office boy to clerk to
manager. The most for
which women could hope was to manage the typing pool or
bookkeeping department. A
short verse from the Harper’s Weekly of October
12, 1907 poked fun at the incompetence of “The Typewriter
Girl.” By contrast,
a comparison in the December 30, 1911 issue asserted
a female typist expended more energy than a male coalheaver.
|Harper's Weekly References
26, 1891, p. S739, col. 3
illustrated ad, women sales agents
12, 1907, p. 1505, col. 1
verse, “The Typewriter Girl”
30, 1911, p. 25, col. 3
“Coalheaver vs. Typewriter”
Gugliotta, Angela, and Stephanie Ogle.
“The First Expert Type-Writer Operator,” History of American
Technology, Bryant College, http://web.Bryant.edu/~history/h364proj/sprg_01/gugliotta/articles.htm
Steven, and Kathleen Kendrick. “Looking at Artifacts, Thinking About
History,” the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum
Schlereth, Thomas J.
Victorian America: Transformations
in Everyday Life (NY: Harper
Sutherland, Daniel E.
The Expansion of Everyday Life:
1860-1876 (NY: Harper & Row, 1989).