Times Have Changed Slice of Life Tuesday

Thanks to Ruth and Stacey for hosting Slice of Life Tuesdays.  You can check their blog for more Slice of Life stories.

Yesterday, I was at school finishing up my cum folders as the principal and secretaries were cleaning out a room that has not been cleaned out in a long time.  So many "treasures" that were not useful anymore were finding their way to the circular file.  When Kayla, our principal, came out with The Complete Secretary's Handbook, that was obviously very old, I knew I had to have it.  Its faded blue cover reminded me of the stacks of electrical code books that my grandfather had in his basement.  It even had that "old book smell" I remember so fondly.  My mother always did (and still does) secretarial work either as a volunteer, or as an employee since I was a young girl.  Plus, I knew that there would be some interesting advice between the book's covers.  I was not wrong...
The book, first published in 1951, then updated in 1960 and 1970, has chapters that include:
  • Business Etiquette for the Successful Secretary
  • How the Secretary Receives Visitors for the Executive
  • How to Handle Special Typing Problems Skillfully
  • Telegraph and Cable Information 
  • How Expert Secretaries Use the Phone
  • Social Amenities Left to the Secretary (which includes advice on buying wedding anniversary cards)
Here are a few that made me smile:

General Etiquette for the Coffee Break
1.  Be neat.  Don't be guilty of having a desk covered with crumbs and coffee stains.  
2.  Observe common table manners.  You should not talk with your mouth full, or borrow someone else's spoon or cup without permission.
3.  Don't let the coffee break interfere with business.  The excuse for a coffee break is that it increases efficiency, but it can be harmful to business if not used with discretion.  It is not polite to tell a receptionist to keep a visitor waiting in the reception room until you have a chance to finish your second breakfast.

Then there is a whole section about getting coffee for your executive.  I wonder if there are secretaries out there who still have to get coffee for their bosses?

Some Rules of Telephone Courtesy
1.  Do not interrupt or be impatient.  Listen attentively.  Do not make the other party repeat because of inattention on your part.
2.  Do not try to talk with a cigarette, pencil, or chewing gum in your mouth.
3.  Answer calls promptly.
4.  If you have to put the receiver down for any reason, put it down gently.

There's even a section about smoking at your desk.  Apparently, "In most modern offices secretaries are allowed to smoke at their desk, because they waste less time than they do going to the ladies room to smoke."    Secretaries are reminded, "Do not smoke when conversing with a visitor, unless he is to remain in your office for awhile and suggests a cigarette."  (Were school secretaries ever allowed to smoke at their desks?)

As I skimmed through the book, I couldn't help but think about how our roles as women in the workplace have changed.  I'm sure there were very few women executives when this book was published and probably even fewer male secretaries.  Add to that, the new technology we now have.  Secretaries no longer need to know the ins and outs of correcting their typing done on a typewriter or how to send a telegraph.  I can't help but think how differently this book would be written today in 2013.

My mom's birthday is on Thursday.  I think I'm going to wrap the book up for her.  She was still a young girl when the book was first published in 195.   I think she'll get a kick out of the book and I'm pretty sure it will bring back some memories of her early jobs as a secretary.  I'll be anxious to hear her stories.

By the way, when I searched "Secretary's Handbook," I got over 1,000 results from Amazon.


  1. What a wonderful treasure that I would have ignored. So glad you didn't :)

  2. When I find old books like this, it is fascinating, as you've found Julie. Your mother will love it, I bet. Do we even use the word 'secretary' anymore?

  3. That's a treasure, indeed. Thanks for sharing some excerpts from it with us. (BTW: What will replace the old book smell once everything goes electronic?)

  4. That kind of book can really tell the story of history. It would be interesting for kids to see something like that in a study of the changing roles of women or even social expectations in different eras.

  5. I do agree with you that in most modern offices smoking is not allowed. The reason is that the smoke is produced by tobacco cigarettes is very much harmful to the other people. The best solution is the best4ecigs-electronic cigarette starter kit. An electronic cigarette does not produce smoke and also not contain any harmful chemical like tobacco. You can freely use this device at any place.


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