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.

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