Sunday, April 20, 2014

Miss Duncan Goes to Washington, Part 1 of 7

Nancy Duncan, 
age 22, 1941
Several months ago Curt Taylor asked if I could put him in touch with Margaret Singer. He explained that his late mother, Nancy Duncan Taylor, served with Ms. Singer in the Red Cross in Iceland during World War II. Curt recently shared letters his mother wrote after graduating from Smith College, then Copley Secretarial Institute in Boston, when she accepted a job in D.C. with the Red Cross through an introduction her father arranged with personnel director, "Mr. Gwin." Before starting, Nancy planned to return home to Scarsdale, N.Y. for a brief vacation. Mr. Gwin had other plans. My thanks to Curt and his siblings for allowing me to reprint excerpts of these letters in a series marking National Administrative Professionals Week (previously National Secretaries Week), April 20-26.

January 4, 1941

Dear Moth-er,

What a mess I have done and made of things this time. I was sure the Old Gwin wouldn't notice I went or not and just called to ask his secretary as a formality. But he was overwhelmed with grief and insisted that I stay in Washington and begin on Monday as planned. I really am awfully sorry about all this fuss and do hope that you hadn't changed too many plans irrevocably. That's just what happens whenever you try to do something not quite right -- not morally, Goop. I don't really need a vacation and I ought to start to work right away.
Robbuncanduck Residence, Georgetown, January 1941
(Roommates Rosalind Robb, Nancy Duncan, Franny Buck)
But the big news is what we did this afternoon. When Friend Gwin said I had to stay, we decided that this was as good a time as any other to start looking for apartments. So Rosalind (Robb) and Franny Buck and I bought a newspaper and went the rounds. They were quite pessimistic about the whole thing because they'd tried so many times before with no success. Well, to make a long story short, we found the neatest little spot in the whole of Washington. It's in Georgetown, 29** Dunbarton Avenue (sic), for future use. We are moving all our stuff up tomorrow and sleeping there Monday night. Now I will describe.

It's on the ground floor of a little house and you enter by a little blue gate, go about two steps through a plot of garden, and land at a blue door. You enter right into the living room, which has a real fireplace in the one corner, a double bed that turns into a couch, and a couple of easy-chairs, really easy. Off of the living room is a tiny cubicle which has some resemblance to a kitchen, with a sink and rinse-board-business and numerous shelves and space underneath. Also an electric stove. Folding doors cover it up when not in use, so from the living room it looks like a closet. 

Dunbarton St., N.W. 2014 
Credit: Google (Click)

The whole setup is so neat and attractive, particularly the blue gate, though, that we were sold on the place almost immediately. You couldn't feel much like a K. Foyle [reference to Kitty Foyle book meaning 'typical white collar girl'] in it because it is so individual. 

I do hope you and Papa will approve of what I have gone and done. So much seems to have happened to me in this one week that I'm still a bit limp from the whole procedure. Of course the job was pretty appalling. Personally, I wouldn’t go far for Mr. Gwin. I think he's a pretty sleepy sort of goop and talks out of only about half his mouth and has really no idea of humor. He told me quite seriously that although the Red Cross didn't pay as well as the government, after 65 I could expect a simply dandy pension! He apologized profusely for making me a mere stenographer, but assured me that with my 'educational background,' meaning caliber, I would get to be a secretary soon enough and that the demand for them was so great that they were having to take girls out of the pool before they were ready. He made me take a stenographic test, which was only about 90 words a minute. Fortunately I'd spent most of the week at the secretarial school boning up, so I wasn't the least bit scared.

So I begin on Monday, living in my own snug little apartment and whipping off to my little job each morning. It sounds all right to me and I am feeling pretty pleased with myself and my precious caliber tonight. Granted I can hold the job, everything in the garden will be loverly. Of course I'm scared to death to go in there day after tomorrow.

Isn't it silly? There's Roge and Mary moving into that tiny little room up in Concord and me in such a palatial residence. Ho, the assets of the Single Life.

We have been trying to think of things that we can ask our dear families for. The list so far is as follows:

Table clothes, or singular, smallish Candle sticks, the symbol of gracious living Ash trays, because we don't own the furniture. Have we an old set of andirons or poker etc.? My freshman towels in my chest in the attic.

You could just dump anything into my laundry case under Ellen's bed and send them on down. I do really grieve over this vacation business, but Gwin surprised me.

Love and Kisses,

Copyright 2005 by Curt Taylor

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