Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Teaching & Learning
The problem was to trace the development of the position of the female secretary in business in the United States from 1900 to 1967. The paper was divided into five sections; namely, origins of the secretarial position; the secretarial position, 1900-1920; the secretarial position, 1920-1940; the secretarial position, 1940-1967; and secretarial specialties.
The historical research method was used to compile data for each section in relation to descriptions of the position, education and experience required, extensiveness of the position, salary, professionalism, and the effect of two wars, a depression, automation, and specialization.
The bona fide secretarial position has not basically changed in 67 years. It has always been a position of responsibility involving authority for decision making and a close personal relationship between the employer and secretary. It has always been a position to which qualified stenographers have been promoted—not a job-entry position. The position has been characterized by its extreme variety, not only within one particular job, but from one company to another.
In the late '20s and '30s the term, "secretarial," was used interchangeably with stenographic. In the '60s different levels of secretarial work developed—secretary, junior secretary, senior secretary, executive secretary, professional secretary, and administrative assistant—and the confusion continued. The "stenographer" had practically disappeared. However, descriptions of lower-level secretarial positions in the '60s closely resembled those of the stenographer prior to 1940. The private secretary of the early 1900s had become the executive, professional secretary of the '60s.
It was estimated that about 3 to 5 per cent of all women employees in offices were bona fide secretaries.
Up to 1930, the prestige and status of the secretarial position was high. It then started to decline and hit "rock bottom" during and after World War II. With certification programs developing in the '50s, the prestige of the position began to climb slowly again.
Age and marital status were the only characteristics of the bona fide secretary which have changed in 67 years. The secretary of the early 1900s was usually single and between 20 and 30 years of age. In the '60s, she was more often married and over 40. In all periods, bona fide secretaries were expected to have a broad general and business education, high-skill proficiency, executive ability, and mature judgment. They were expected to know something about everything and be able to handle any situation and problem.
Factors outside the profession had various effects on the secretarial position, but did not alter its basic duties and requirements. World War I increased the demand for qualified female secretaries. The depression lowered salaries, but most secretaries held their jobs. World War II lowered the educational and skill requirements for job- entry positions causing a corresponding lowering of the prestige and status of the secretarial position. Automation had no affect on the bona fide secretarial position, but it eliminated the mediocre, ill- equipped pseudo-secretaries. Recent emphasis has been placed on the personal, creative, human relations aspects of the position. There also seemed to be a trend in the '60s toward secretarial specialization.
Some reference was made to secretarial work as a profession in the early 1900s, but it was not until the secretarial associations were organized to encourage advanced education and develop certification programs that any concerted effort was made to elevate secretarial work to a recognized profession. Only through their efforts in encouraging higher education and maintenance of high standards will real professionalism be attained. However, unless the confusion and misunderstanding of the term "secretary" is eliminated, secretarial work, in general, will never be recognized as a profession. The term "secretary" as it is used today is meaningless.
Oelrich, Elizabeth Shaughnessy, "The Position of the Female Secretary in the United States from 1900 Through 1967: An Historical Study" (1968). Theses and Dissertations. 3710.