Every now and then, you come across an artifact that reminds you just how much our city, let alone our society, has changed. Recently, I found this program from a “Secretarial Seminar” held at the St. Joseph County Public Library that taught young ladies the skills needed to be great secretaries.
Sadly, I have not come across any photographs or stories about what happened during this seminar. With topics including “Social Conduct and Attitudes” and “The Look To Get and Keep the Job,” I imagined it to be a crash course on how to become one of the female archetypes on the television show “Mad Men” — or perhaps something straight from the charm school scene in “A League of Their Own.” Women taught how to dress and behave like the pure and chaste ladies they were expected to be, amiably deflecting the advances of those in positions of power, almost all of whom were men.
One might hope that this piece would be a remnant of some long ago time, eons before our eldest family members were even born. But it isn’t. It is from 1962.
Although long before my arrival on this planet, family and friends were very much alive and active when this seminar occurred. My mother, for example, told me that, despite her desire to be a rock ’n’ roll radio disc jockey, her high school guidance counselor guided her towards one of the three most viable options available to a woman in the 1960s: nurse, teacher, or secretary.
The progress that we’ve made towards gender equality in that time is both staggering and frustrating. Though still speculative, 2016 might give us the first female major party nominee for the presidency, a woman whose chances of winning that office are pretty good.
Hillary Clinton was fifteen years old when this seminar happened. I don’t know if anyone told her she should be a nurse, teacher, or secretary. She ended up doing something much different. A lot can change in just one lifetime.
Image Credit: Indiana University South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center, Hering House Collection.
About the Author: George Garner is a graduate of Kutztown University (Pennsylvania) with a bachelor’s degree in history and the Cooperstown Graduate Program (New York) with a master’s degree in museum studies. Garner gained experience in museum administration, exhibitions, education, and collections care at such well-known institutions as the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michael’s, Maryland. Garner currently works with the Studebaker National Museum and the Indiana University South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center.