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The M Dash

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Look Beautiful Over the Telephone

October 21, 2014

Last summer when I became the owner of a vintage Remington typewriter, I had no idea that I had also become the beneficiary of some outrageously antiquated career advice. The machine’s accompanying pamphlet, “How To Be a Super Secretary” (printed in 1951), contained such gems as:

Beneath the manual’s cheery aesthetic lurked something seriously sinister. By the time I reached the last page of the document (which contained a list of employers’ pet peeves about their secretaries that included “too bossy,” “her slip always shows,” and “egotistical… smart but not smart enough to hide it”), I was in something of a rage. And given my tendency toward bossiness, moodiness, and talking back, I was also thoroughly convinced that I would have made the worst secretary of all time.

Though it makes for a highly entertaining read, the guide offers a disconcerting glimpse into what it was like to be a working woman in the fifties. On every page, subtle smack-downs masquerade as helpful advice. My personal favorite (and yes, a basket is being lowered over her):

Even today, navigating the working world as a woman is no easy task, but you know what would have been unequivocally worse? Having to do it in the Mad Men era, when your freaking typewriter came with a manual intent on keeping you in your place.

Now that it’s 2013, at least we can can boss people around, brazenly flash our slips, and—if we’re feeling really audacious—even take credit for our own accomplishments.

Lead Image: Grace Kelly in a Remington ad campaign, 1950

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Tory Hoen is the author of the novel The Arc. She spent five years as the Creative Director of Brand at M.M.LaFleur (where she founded The M Dash!) and has written for New York Magazine, Vogue Fortune, Bon Appétit, and Condé Nast Traveler. Read more of Tory's posts.

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