Girl Coming of Age in the 1960s


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My mother and I had taken the bus to NYC a week earlier to investigate the four YWCA residences in Manhattan. It was our understanding that I could return to the Laura Spelman one and start living there at the weekly rate, but that turned out not to be true. Though there were many room-and-board residences for women in NYC in the 1960s, they all required that you already have a job.

Letters from New York City - April 1965

Mon. eve.

I arrive in the big city

I thought I'd let you know that I've arrived, though my hand is almost too paralyzed to write. I just walked down to the station [Port Authority bus terminal] and back for my traincase and typewriter, which I'd put in a locker because there was no redcap around. The small green canvas is still down there in another locker. The big green one I dragged up to the entrance and got a taxi to here with. [The Laura Spelman YWCA on 8th Ave. at about 50th St.] By the time I got here it was ten of five, so I didn't ask to see Mrs. Ramey. I will tomorrow morning.

I am in an impossibly dingy green room, double beds, with a metal desk and dresser, a night table with goose-neck lamps, and an orange plastic armchair. There is a bathroom with tub and shower, and a closet. It is room 717. I think, now that I'm up here, this may be a "permanent residents" floor; there seem to be a lot of teenage girls, and I think she said the sixth and seventh floors were for "younger girls" in the interview.

I have the Manhattan directory and Classifieds directory and a Bible for reading material. The window overlooks Eighth Ave. The Tivoli, across the way, is running "Orgy of the Golden Nudes". Also across the way is a place advertising character readings and advice on problems, and a neon sign blinking on and off "Sin Will Find You Out." Catty-cornered across is the Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge, and all the families inside its picture windows that I can see look very homey and like us. Most of them have the TVs on.

The cafeteria is open from seven to seven. I'll try it tomorrow morning. The stores are open tonight and I am going down to Macys and maybe eat there, and then go to the Port Authority for the last suitcase. I'll take a bus down Broadway to Herald Square.

The city does seem lonely and scary, though I knew it would be this way. And this room is anything but cheerful, compared to the cozy ones I can see in Howard Johnson's. I can't quite believe I'm here. It's so different when you're alone.

But I'll survive.

Tues. eve.

No job = No place to live

I'm almost out on the streets. I saw Mrs. Ramey this morning and she said there is no chance that I can be taken on as a permanent resident here even when I do get a job because she is required to cut down the number of permanent residents she has now by 50% to accommodate more transients who will be coming to the World's Fair. She suggested I go right over to Morgan Hall [another of the four YWCA residences in Manhattan] , then to Y headquarters to find out about the Y-inspected Room Registry, and then to Studio Club [a third YWCA residence] . So I went to Morgan Hall, which is full up, and got an appointment for an interview there on May 4. I could get in there at the latest at the end of May, probably earlier, but must be employed. Then to Room Registry. One must be employed to get a room there, and the head woman said not to bother with Studio Club, it has the biggest waiting list of all. So I went over to the Webster Apartments [a women's residence on 34th St. between 9th and 10th Avenues. It wasn't really apartments, just rooms. My mother lived there for a while when she was young and single in the late 1930s] . They take only employed girls but the woman thought I could get in right away when I am employed. They only interview on Wednesday evenings.

By the way, they've only reserved this room for me until May 1 and I may have to leave before the two weeks are up. I'll talk to her again tomorrow. But be sure and send them another check, because the room has to be paid for 24 hours in advance and the $50 (48 of it) will last only till a week today noon, the 27th.

No one wants to keep a girl who's job-hunting! I don't know where she's supposed to go.

After Webster I came back here and phoned ABC and NBC. NBC said just to come in any morning Monday through Thursday. ABC gave me an appointment for 9:30 tomorrow morning, so I had to get gloves and purse and hat right away.

I got on the wrong Broadway bus (it ended up going crosstown instead of downtown) and when I finally got back into the shopping district the first store I hit was Lord & Taylor, where I bought a perfect little beige hat with veil for $8.00. I realize I could have found something similar and cheaper elsewhere, but it is perfect. Then came the awful part, the purse. Even New York isn't full of the right color, which is taupe. Gimbels, Saks 34th, Macys, and Ohrbachs all didn't have a thing in that color. I got gloves at Saks. Then I went into Altman's and they had a perfect one. It was $18.50. Funny how all the perfect things are expensive. But anyway, the whole ensemble looks really put-together and smart.

My feet are a mess. Those shoes started out to be comfortable, but now I have blisters on both heels and on one toe. I could hardly walk at the end of the afternoon.

It's now 12:30 and I'm getting up at six. Every effort must be made; I hate to think of anyone turning me down!

Wed. eve.

ABC wants me

Guess what! I'm the proud possessor of an offer from ABC. I was at their personnel office from 9:30 to noon. Gee, this typewriter needs a new ribbon.

When I first went in I filled out a small card. When I put down "no experience" the receptionist wasn't going to let me get any further, but then she did. I sat down for a while (along with many other applicants of all ages) and in a little while she called me over to fill out a detailed application form. Then I sat down again for a while. Then she called me over again and directed me to Mr. Roennau's office and he interviewed me. Then I sat down again for a while. Then I was given a typing test (on which I scored 48 wpm with 8 mistakes, which is why I'm typing now). Then I was given a twelve-minute aptitude test. Then I sat down again. Then I had another talk with Mr. Roennau and he told me about the job he had in mind for me in the music clearance dept. It has mainly to do with the radio station and involves checking on copyright and getting permission to play music on the air, from organizations like ASCAP which control many publishers' rights. It involves typing, filing, and telephone work. Then he sent me over to see Miss Jean Driscoll in an annex on 67th Street. ABC is all spread out now in the west sixties, but will soon move into a new building in Rockefeller Center.

I liked her very much. She would be my boss and I would work with two other girls, whom I met. The salary is $80 per week. No vacation this year. The drawbacks are that it is not creative work and does not have much future for openings into creative work.

After that, I was to call Mr. Roennau back, which I did. I told him I was interested but would like a few days to think about it. I have until Friday.

Then I staggered back here. I'm practically crippled. Opened blisters on both heels and one toe. I can't wear those Cuboids, they just make my shoes aggravate my heels more.

By the time I had lunch and got back to the room it was three, and I just sat with my feet in the bathtub the rest of the afternoon. Oh, due to some indecision after leaving ABC about what to do next, I hobbled over to FIfth Avenue before deciding to come right back here. Then I remembered the bank and stopped in a small one. I now have a savings account in the Fifth Avenue Branch of the First National City Bank, at 640 Fifth Avenue at 51st Street. That should be pretty easy to reach. I've mastered the Fifth Avenue bus. It will take six business days to have your check checked, so she said the earliest I can get a check cashed there is next Friday the thirtieth. At present I have twenty-two dollars, so you'll probably have to send me some cash before then.

Especially if I make the five-dollar required deposit tomorrow at the Webster Apartments. When I went there the other day I was told they only interviewed girls on Wednesdays from five to seven, so I went down this evening and they said they could take me on the 27th when the deposit you paid here runs out, even if I don't have a job yet. They were very nice and very impressed when they learned that my mother had lived there.

I would have paid the deposit tonight except, being very cautious, I'd brought only change with me on the subway. Then I came back here and met Miss Kuusisto in the lobby. I told her about the Webster and she suggested that I ask to see the accommodations I would have before paying. She has heard recently that it is very run-down. So I will ask to, tomorrow. I also didn't think to ask the minimum length of stay, in case it doesn't work out. But I told them to estimate my pay at $80/week. So my room rate level is twenty-six something, and this includes two meals a day six days a week and three on Sunday, I think. You would have to send a check made out to me for that right away if I decide to go ahead with that. I'll let you know tomorrow night.

Miss Kuusisto also told me about jobs she had been contacted about as tour guides at Lincoln Center, $75/week. Part time on weekends, $15/day. She also said that the counseling service in the central Y is more social, not job related. It's for runaway girls and things like that.

I may take that ABC job out of inability to stagger around to any place else. I wore my moccasins down to the Webster tonight because I couldn't stand anything else. But now I really have to find out how comparatively good a deal the ABC job is by Friday afternoon. Tomorrow morning at 9:00 NBC's interview office opens and I'll be there then. I hope it doesn't take half the day; I'm determined to fit in Chappell Music publishing and Doubleday.

If you see Barb, tell her New York has not dimmed, and that at least half the want-ads in the Times say "fee paid".

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