Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Looking Back: 1968 GOP Convention, Miami Beach

Gus Miller
In January 1968, I was a 19-year-old journalism student when I got a part-time job working for Gus Miller in public relations at the Republican National Committee. As the convention neared, Gus pulled strings to make me his assistant as press room director. He thought it would be a good experience for me. In doing so, I was told that I was the youngest employee in the history of the GOP (and a woman, to boot) to be a paid staffer at a national convention.

I wasn't the first person Gus mentored, nor the first woman. There were so many of us college students that we became known as "Gus Miller's Brownies." One of Gus' proteges was Jackie Bouvier (Kennedy) who reported to him after graduating from George Washington University in 1951 and being hired as The Inquiring Photographer for The Washington Times-Herald.

Gus was city editor of The Times-Herald until it was sold in 1954 to The Washington Post. He was well-respected among the Washington press corps, and Republican and Democratic politicians alike. He'd sometimes smile and reminisce about the early 1950s when he'd throw a  football in the corridors of the Senate office building with Sen. Jack Kennedy and a staff member named Ted Riordan.

Gus was a natural choice to manage the press room, and I was an eager young journalist, never without my Instamatic camera. Enjoy this photographic diary of the 1968 GOP Convention:

California Gov. Ronald Reagan (above) arriving at the Fontainebleau Hotel. Reagan and New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller planned to unite their forces in a "stop-Nixon" movement at the convention. The strategy fell apart when neither man could agree to support the other.

Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen successfully united the various factions of the Republican Party by granting younger Republicans more representation in the Senate leadership and better committee appointments.

David Brinkley and Chet Huntley (The Huntley-Brinkley Report) anchored convention coverage for NBC from a booth overlooking the convention floor.

Washington's "Hostess with the Mostest" Perle Mesta and actor Hugh O'Brien ("Wyatt Earp").

Los Angeles Lakers' Wilt "The Stilt" Chamberlain signing autographs outside the Fontainbleau Hotel. Chamberlain was a supporter of Nixon's and helped tout the President's ideas on "black capitalism” and entrepreneurism.

Showing displeasure with the invasion of Republicans, this cashier in the Fontainebleau's coffee shop wore a handmade button everyday that read, "Arthur Goldberg for President." Goldberg was a former Supreme Court Justice, and Ambassador to the United Nations at the time.


Ruth Miller (blue dress) greeted visitors near the elevator at the Fontainebleau Hotel. Mrs. Miller was among several seniors working at the RNC that Gus affectionately referred to as "grave dodgers. . .like me."

Gus invited me to hold the gavels which were under his guard before the convention convened on Aug. 5, 1968.

Our office was "Convention Central" with reporters streaming in and out all day to chew the fat with Gus. Finally, he asked RNC artist, Bill Fleishell, to write "The Elephant Not the Yak is the Symbol of the GOP!" on a stock poster of an elephant. Photographer John Littleton heard about the sign and couldn't resist taking this photo. Next day, someone told me it was on page B1 of The Christian Science Monitor.

Gus ran a taut ship that included shooing away reporters when they'd ask me to go out with them. One night a UPI reporter invited me to join him and some other reporters in the cocktail lounge. "Get outta here!" Gus ordered, pointing to the door, "She's gotta work!" When I expressed my displeasure with his interference, he reminded me that I was underage. As a consolation, Gus sent me back to my hotel room with what was left of a Chivas Regal bottle he told me to share with my roommate.


On the last day of the convention, I was working as reporters waited for an announcement of the vice presidential nominee. Suddenly, there was a chorus, "Spiro Agnew! Who's he?" "He's the governor of Maryland" I told them, a native of the seventh state to join the Union. Nixon had chosen Agnew in order to secure the southern vote in November. 

The day after the convention we began packing up as a hurricane headed our way. Gus and Fred Morrison, director of public relations, and Fred's secretary invited me to join them for a leisurely lunch to celebrate a "job well done." The afterglow was short lived. After we returned to Washington, Nixon's media advisors, Ken Reitz and Harry Treleavan, fired Fred and other veteran journalists on our staff, including a former president of the National Press Club, and replaced them with advertising men. Gus was the only one who didn't get fired. Instead, he was demoted to a room in the sub-basement outside the mail room/print shop. These "Mad Men" times were chronicled in Joe McGinniss's best-selling book, "The Selling of the President 1968." It marked the end of substance and the beginning of an era where politicians would be packaged and sold like toothpaste. 

Four years later, I returned for the 1972 GOP Convention in Miami Beach, this time as a secretary in the speechwriting department of the Nixon White House. I was part of a team that approved, and reworked, speeches prior to delivery before the convention floor -- and a nationwide television audience. Mort Laughlin, creator of "All in the Family," was hired to write jokes for our department. This effort to manipulate and broadcast a unified, engaging message to the nation was thought by many at the time to be controversial, even scandalous.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

36th President Hones Political Skill as Hill Secretary

Lyndon Baines Johnson, one of the most masterful politicians in American history, arrived in the nations capital in 1931, at 23, when he was recruited as a legislative secretary to newly-elected Democratic Congressman Richard M. Kleberg.

Two years later he was elected speaker of the Little Congress, a club for Capitol Hill secretaries. According to the Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives:

"The 24-year-old congressional secretary of Congressman Dick Kleberg of Texas adeptly bypassed precedent which dictated the election of officers based on seniority by inviting a large contingent of employees (elevator operators and mailmen, for instance) to join the Little Congress. Johnson’s tactic to expand the membership beyond congressional secretaries — according to the organization’s bylaws eligibility included anyone on the legislative payroll — paved the way for his surprise election as speaker. As presiding officer, Johnson transformed the Little Congress into a finely-tuned organization with membership in the hundreds.

". . .The club eventually disbanded during World War II and was replaced by the Congressional Secretaries Club — a rival organization established in 1935, partly as an explicit rejection of Johnson’s dominance of the Little Congress."

Johnson parlayed his contacts on Capitol Hill, and at home in Texas, and in 1937 won a special election for the Congressional District vacated by the death of James P. Buchanan. In 1948 he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he became the minority leader, and later, the majority leader. Upon the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, Johnson was sworn in as 36th President of the United States.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

George B. Cortelyou: From Stenographer to the First White House Press Secretary

Probably, the most influential White House secretary was George B. Cortelyou who served Presidents Grover Cleveland, William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. Cortelyou is credited with creating systems that are still used today in the modern White House press office.

As a young man growing up in Hempstead, Long Island during the 1870s, Cortelyou was persuaded to study shorthand by his first tutor, Mrs. Ephraim Hinds. While attending Georgetown Law School, he landed a job as a stenographer and typist with the U.S. Customs Service, advancing to clerk in the Postmaster General's office in 1891.

Cortelyou caught the attention of President Cleveland who recruited him to serve as his stenographer. He went on to serve President McKinley, and was with the President when he was assassinated in 1901.

Afterwards, President Teddy Roosevelt cajoled Cortelyou into staying on, and lead White House operations into the 20th century. Cortelyou instituted reforms to strengthen communications between the President and the press corps including creating the White House press room, and being the first White House administrator to host briefings and distribute press releases.

Roosevelt later appointed Cortelyou to Secretary of Commerce and Labor in 1903. He resigned in June 1904 to become chairman of the Republican National Committee and manage Roosevelt’s reelection campaign. Cortelyou went on to become Postmaster General in 1905, and Secretary of Treasury in 1907. Many surmise that Cortelyou would not have reached political prominence had it not been for his childhood tutor, Mrs. Hinds, who later became his mother-in-law.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Invention of Liquid Paper

The debut of Liquid Paper in 1956 developed by secretary Bette Nesmith Graham revolutionized the work of thousands of clerical workers in the nation's capital. Although I remember using it several years later at the Republican National Committee, we were strictly forbidden to use Liquid Paper, Ko-Rec-Type, even erasure at The White House.

Graham was the mother of Michael Nesmith, founding member of The Monkees. As a  single mother, she supported Michael and herself as a secretary at the Texas Bank Trust in Dallas. With the introduction of electric typewriters in the 1950s, she discovered that typos couldn't easily be erased. Her second job painting the bank's windows during the holiday season was the inspiration behind what is now known as "Liquid Paper." Graham noticed “with lettering, an artist never corrects by erasing, but always paints over the error. So I decided to use what artists use. I put some tempera water-based paint in a bottle and took my watercolor brush to the office. I used that to correct my mistakes.” 

A coworker saw Graham using her homemade invention, and asked for a sample. Graham poured it into a bottle and labeled it “Mistake Out." Soon all of the secretaries began asking for samples. In 1956, Graham founded the Mistake Out Company, fine-tuning her formula in her kitchen blender. Michael and his friends helped fill the bottles. In 1957, she sold about 100 bottles a month. The story goes that Graham was fired from her job for a mistake she was unable to correct. By then, demand for the product increased to the point that Graham could afford to pay herself and hire part-time employees. In 1961, 13 years after developing Liquid Paper, Graham hired her first full-time employee. Of course, the rest is history. In 1979, Graham sold the company to Gillette for $47.5 million. She passed away in 1980 leaving her estate to Michael and charitable organizations. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"Private Secretary" Actress Ann Sothern Comes to Washington

From 1953-1957, the character of Susie McNamara in the sitcom "Private Secretary" had become to secretaries what Lucy Ricardo had become to housewives: an icon. This was especially true for thousands of clerical workers in the nation's capital.

"The National Secretaries Association turned out enmasse Tuesday to honor Ann Sothern, currently appearing at the Casino Royal...and present her with a special ambassadorial citation for her promotion of the art of secretaries," reported The Washington Post on July 29, 1954.

"The delegation (85 women and 3 mere men) representing the Capital, Executive and presidential Chapters, dashed from their offices to the Casino at 6:30 p.m. for pre-citation cocktails with the platinum-haired actress. Her current avocation outside of nightclubbing, is appearing in a series of filmed TV shows entitled 'Private Secretary.'"

Ms. Sothern was in town performing a song and dance act. In the year following the debut of 'Private Secretary,' the character of Susie McNamara represented beauty, efficiency and "cool" working for a high-strung talent agent, Peter Sands, played by actor Don Porter.

"It was 4 o'clock in the afternoon and even in the Casino Royale I sort of expected to find TV's 'Private Secretary' slaving her fingers to the bone over a hot typewriter," wrote columnist Lawrence Laurent in The Post on July 29, 1954.

"Instead, I found Private Secretary Ann Sothern dancing and singing her way through a boogie beat number called 'It's Too Darn Hot.' There wasn't a typewriter or a shorthand pad in sight and Miss Sothern looked as strange without this equipment as Liberace without a smile."

Another reporter asked Ms. Sothern if she knew shorthand.

"That always embarrasses me," she said, laughing. "No, I can't take shorthand and my best typing speed is about 15 words per minute."

A celebrated stage and screen actress, Ms. Sothern did her due diligence in preparing for the role according to reporter Dorothy Roe in The Post:

"'Since the program started, I've worn only clothes that a secretary could afford. That's what I'm buying now. I won't pay more than $25 to $50 for any office outfit. For real bang-up glamor for after-office wear I'll stretch the budget maybe to $75 to $100.'

"Ann checked with all her secretary friends in and around the studio before she took on the TV role to find out just how a private secretary is supposed to act. Occasionally she still hits the wrong gadget on an adding  machine, or doesn't hit the space bar on the typewriter at the right time -- and then the mail pours in from girls pointing out her mistake.

"It's really quite a responsibility, playing this part just right," she says. "because there are so many secretaries, and so many wives whose husbands have secretaries. I have to be careful never to get too familiar with the boss, so as not to alarm the wives looking in."

"Private Secretary" was produced by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Balls' production company, Desilu.

In my final installment tomorrow celebrating the 60th Anniversary of National Secretaries Day in the nation's capital, I'll share a rags-to-riches story of a secretary in the 1950s who became a millionaire after inventing what would become a Washington secretary's favorite tool until the debut of the personal computer 30 years later.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

VP Nixon Receives National Secretaries Association's First 'Special Award'

On July 19, 1958, the National Secretaries Association presented Vice President Richard Nixon with their first special award "for recognition and understanding of the secretarial profession" at their convention in Minneapolis.

"A determining factor in Mr. Nixon’s selection for the award was his appraisal of the secretarial profession in 'Mr. Nixon Calls Himself Lucky,' in the Saturday Evening Post on Dec. 28, 1957," reported The Pittsburgh Press on July 11, 1958.
"Mr. Nixon Calls Himself Lucky" was a preface the Vice President penned to an article written by his secretary, Rose Mary Woods, titled "Nixon's My Boss."

Here's what he said:

"Next to a man's wife, his secretary is the most important person in his career. A top-flight secretary has to have an incredible variety of virtues. She has to be flawlessly proficient at shorthand and typing. She has to have the quite different skill of making hundreds of decisions a day for her employer -- and she has to know just what decisions not to make as well. She has to understand every detail of her employer's job; to have unquestioning loyalty and absolute discretion. Unlike her boss, she can never enjoy the luxury of temperament, no matter how tense the atmosphere, how long the hours. She is the balance wheel for the whole office. On every count Rose measures up -- and on top of that she's been a good friend to both Pat and myself. I'm a lucky man." Richard Nixon

Tomorrow I'll profile Best Actress nominee Ann Sothern who had an extraordinary impact on Washington secretaries in her role as Susie McNamara in the groundbreaking sitcom, "Private Secretary" produced by Desilu from 1953-58.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"Girl Friday" Series, The Washington Post

A highlight of my adventure into the secret world of the Washington secretary was the discovery of the "Girl Friday" series which debuted in The Washington Post in early 1953. 

Initially penned by Estelle Sharpe Jackson, the column was created in response to the demand for "Girl Fridays." Here, they offer tips for getting the job, keeping the job -- and knowing when to fold your cards and leave.

"Smart Secretary Respects Taboos," July 24, 1953

"Absolute taboos, according to Stella, are sheer nylon blouses, dark-heeled hose, ankle-strapped shoes, 'anything that draws the attention to any part of the anatomy.'

"And -- 'no efficient secretary chews gum,' says she." 

"Nice to Work for a Woman -- Sometimes," Sept. 25, 1953

"If she's asked, Mrs. Peterson will tell aspiring young secretaries that hard work is necessary for advancement in the Government. . .

"She reminds older women that being adaptable is a very important attribute. 'You shouldn't try to do things the way you were taught whether the new boss likes it or not. I think that's one reason that people hesitate to employ older women -- they often become rigid in their ideas and are convinced that their methods are the only right ones."

"'Be a Doormat,' One Success Formula," Oct. 23, 1953

A veteran secretary offers 11 rules to "make your boss happier." The last three caught my attention:

"9. Do some light housekeeping each day. See that ashtrays are clean, pencils sharpened, fountain pen, stapler, cigarette box, lighter all filled and ready to use.

"10. Make a friend of your dictionary. Whenever in doubt about the use of a word, the separation of syllables or the correct spelling, stop and look it up.

"11. Be a doormat. If it irritates you to balance your boss's checkbook, exchange his wife's slippers -- look for another job. If you're not devoted to him, it can't work anyway."

Tomorrow, the 60th Anniversary of National Secretaries Day, I'll feature Vice President Richard Nixon who was the recipient of the 1958 National Secretaries Award "for recognition and understanding of the secretarial profession."

Monday, April 23, 2012

Looking Back: 60th Anniversary, Nat'l Secretaries Day

On Wednesday, Americans will celebrate the 60th anniversary of National Secretaries Day (National Administrative Professionals Day) as part of National Administrative Professionals Week, April 22-28.

Each day, I'm going to add a post to this blog to take us back in time to what it was like to be a secretary (aka 'Girl Friday') in 1950s-era Washington.

As background, National Secretaries Day was created by the National Secretaries Association (International Association of Administrative Professionals) founded in 1942 in response to millions of women who traveled to the nation's capital to support the war effort.

In 1952, secretaries were honored for the first time with a day all their own. 

Two years later, on May 27, 1954, government, business and education leaders gathered for a banquet at the Sheraton Park Hotel commemorating the second anniversary of National Secretaries Day.

Reporter Patty Cavin covered the event for The Washington Post:

"Rep. [Timothy P.] Sheehan, speaking on women in politics admitted he couldn’t be brave enough to define women but described politics as 'the good of mankind.' He referred to a recent Chicago poll which disclosed that women think and talk of three things only. . .men, money and themselves. 

“'If you don’t pay attention to politics, the men will go off to war, the government will take all your money for taxes and you’ll be left with yourselves. It’s bound to be a pretty dull world. Thus, it behooves you to take an interest in government and the men you send to Congress,' Sheehan warned the secretaries." 

Two years later, on April 6, 1958, anticipation for National Secretaries Day grew as The Washington Post touted the headline, “Washington Secretaries to Observe Their ‘Week.’” 

"The biggest date in the notebooks of Washington’s 'Girl Fridays' is April 23, Secretaries’ Day. It’s the highlight of Nationwide Secretaries’ Week, proclaimed by Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks for April 20 through 26. . ."

On April 21, 1959, Helen Austern of the Post reported on a ceremony at the Advertising Club in which Barbara Wills was named "Miss Secretary of 1959."

She wrote:

"Poised, brownette Barbara received her rhinestone studded crown from last year’s winner, Mary Smith of Huntsville, Ala. . .

"Contestants were judged by appearance, secretarial school record, a tape recording of their voice, and recommendations from their bosses, in the early rounds of the competition.

"Also at yesterday’s luncheon at the Presidential Arms Hotel, which honored members’ Girl Fridays, was Mrs. Rita Bento, secretary to Ad Club publicity chairman Basil Littin, who praised the Nation’s crop of secretaries. She said they can always be counted on for a cheerful good morning, a second cup of coffee, courteous reminders, and the touches that a female can add to any office."

What a difference 60 years makes. These days bosses, half of whom are women, make their own appointments on iPhones, while standing in line at Starbucks fetching their lattes. 

Tomorrow I'll discuss Estelle Sharpe Jackson's "Girl Friday" column published in The Washington Post in the early 1950s.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lois Lippman, the First African-American Secretary in The White House

In January 1953 Lois Lippman, 28, became the first African-American secretary in the White House when her boss, Charles F. Willis, Jr. of Citizens for Eisenhower in New York City, was appointed assistant to Chief-of-Staff Sherman Adams.

Lippman and her husband, attorney Romeyn Lippman, discussed the move, then concluded that it would be a big step in race relations.

“There has never before been a colored girl in the White House,” she told The Washington Post.

“We decided that when the barrier has been broken down once, it is difficult to build it up again.”

In an article published on June 4, 1953 in Jet magazine Lippman explained that, in addition to handling confidential mail and scheduling appointments with "high government brass," she supervised an all-white clerical staff of five. "Office relations are excellent," she said. "We all seem to be at ease with each other.”

The article continued: "Away from the White House, however, Mrs. Lippman discovered soon after arrival that in Washington, unlike Boston and New York, Jim Crow restricted her movements. But she says she has made an adjustment in this fashion: 'I go to the places where I’m supposed to go and stay away from the places where I’m not supposed to go.'

"Ask how she determined which places were not Jim Crow, she explains, 'I clipped a list from a Negro newspaper. It shows the restaurants and movies where Negroes are permitted to go.'

"Mrs. Lippman points out, however, that she has only one major problem in her job at the White House: 'Convincing people – especially small children – that I cannot get them an appointment with the President.'”

After giving birth to her first child the following year, Lippman returned to work until 1959 when her husband, who was with the Internal Revenue Service, was transferred to New York City.

Few people (including me until researching this story) are aware of the fact that after defeating the Nazis in Europe, it was President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican, who is credited with taking action to desegregate the nation's capital. In addition to Lois Lippman, more than 400 other African-Americans were named to key jobs in his administration including Assistant Secretary of Labor J. Ernest Wilkins who became the first African-American to sit in on a cabinet meeting.

Upon Eisenhower's death on March 28, 1969, Simeon Booker, Jet Washington Bureau Chief, honored him in an article titled, "Eisenhower’s Untold Civil Rights Record: Broke Barriers for D.C. Blacks."

He wrote: "When Harlem’s Adam Clayton Powell wrote in a national magazine that Eisenhower had accomplished more in civil rights than all of the other presidents put together, pro-Democratic forces plotted the defeat of the Harlem lawmaker in 1956. With Powell campaigning across the country for Eisenhower’s re-election, Democratic presidential hopeful Adlai Stevenson [1952 & 1956 elections] showed where he stood on racial progress. Asked if he would use the Army, Navy and FBI to enforce in the South the Supreme Court’s integration edict he said:'I think that would be a great mistake. That is exactly what brought on the Civil War. We must proceed gradually, not upsetting habits or traditions that are older than the Republic.'”

After his inauguration on Jan. 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy continued the work started by President Eisenhower by further expanding opportunities for African-Americans at the highest levels of politics and government in the nation's capital.