The Lumber Room

"Consign them to dust and damp by way of preserving them"

Women enter the workplace

with 5 comments


In 1874, less than 4% of clerical workers in the United States were women; by 1900, the number had increased to approximately 75%.
from today’s featured article on Wikipedia, to which my only contribution was cheering a bit when it was being written.

It can be argued whether C. Latham Sholes, the inventor of the (first successful) typewriter, was the saviour of women, but there can be no doubt that the typewriter was one of the most major factors in changing their role.

Relevant section on Wikipedia.

Of course, there were ugly side-effects. The entry of women was resented, and there were endless cartoons insinuating that these secretaries were cheating with their employers whose wives were at home. This was compounded by the manufacturers’ own marketing, which (as has always been the case) consisted of women in provocative pictures. The book Sexy Legs and Typewriters collects some “non-pornographic vintage erotic images” from the period.

And only a couple of decades later, when Ottmar Mergenthaler, “the second Gutenberg”, invented the linotype machine and changed typesetting forever, the printers were prepared, and banded together to prevent women from “taking their jobs”. They even succeeded, for a while.

For a brief while, when you bought a typewriter, a woman came with it.

Barbara Blackburn’s record, for being the fastest typist in the world, was using the Dvorak keyboard. Obviously. :-)


Written by S

Tue, 2010-03-02 at 20:48:52

Posted in history

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5 Responses

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  1. I know this is a draft, but I feel it is my solemn duty to inform you that this entire concept of women entering the workplace is a base and dastardly myth, perpetrated by devious rascals to induce people to take up jobs. I assure you, my good man, there is no such beast as a Woman at the workplace.


    Tue, 2010-03-16 at 05:11:32

    • Perhaps the concept of women itself is a hoax too, like the so-called “moon”? (Example: Propaganda claims that women have existed for thousands of years, but did you know that no photographs of women exist from before the 1830s?)


      Tue, 2010-03-16 at 16:23:30

  2. These pictures seem to be from the era of long stockings and before the era of leg shaving (which began after 1920 and probably caught on after WWII), though I can’t really be sure given the black and white nature of the pictures (the first one is unclear to me).


    Tue, 2010-08-10 at 17:03:04

    • They do seem to be from the 1910s and 1920s, yes.

      Unrelated, just dumping here: Mark Twain was one of the early users of the typewriter and was the first to submit a typewritten manuscript. But too many people were curious about this machine in 1875, so when he was asked for a testimonial:

      Please do not use my name in any way. Please do not even divulge the fact that I own a machine. I have stopped using the Type Writer, for the reason that I never could write a letter with it to anybody without receiving a request by return mail that I not only describe the machine, but state what progress I had made in the use of it, etc., etc. I don’t like to write letters and so I don’t want people to know I own this curiosity-breeding little joker.
      Yours truly,
      Saml. L. Clemens.


      Wed, 2010-08-11 at 14:49:05

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