Girl Coming of Age in the 1960s


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Like the four YWCAs and the Webster Apartments previously mentioned, The Barbizon Hotel and the East End Hotel were also residences for women. You might like to read this 1973 article about them, by Karen Sullivan Sibert for The Wall Street Journal. On the night of New York City's "big blackout" of 11-9-1965, I felt especially lucky to be living in the conveniently-located Laura Spelman YWCA.

Letters from New York City - October 1965

Fri. morn.

Not moving into an apartment-for-4

Here I am on Company time again. Your letter was waiting for me last night—so chock full of news, and when I picked it up I was thinking nothing too much of interest could have happened since Saturday... [...]

I had a good time Saturday too. Now that the World's Fair is closing you'll probably never come again as a family. I think you should bring Chris to see the Christmas show at Radio City.

It hasn't been too cold here yet. When I get my paycheck next Friday I am going shopping for a winter coat. Last week's went for shorthand for October. This coming week I'll ask Jean about ABC starting to pay for it.

The shorthand course is really going well. I like it, the idea of it. And I'm very happy with the Mary Byers school. The teacher, Miss Ulrich, is very nice. She lives, by the way, at the Barbizon.

On living accommodations: I called Barb on Sunday but couldn't get her. We got together on Monday night after my class; she and Eleanor Schneider came over to the Y. The third girl, Judy Donaldson, will arrive this weekend. They said they had come to the conclusion they would have to get an unfurnished apartment; there aren't many furnished ones suitable for four. They had already found a huge one with two baths in the East 90s. They say they have to find one before October 9, as they only have reserved rooms at the East End Hotel till then. They said we could get some beds cheap from the Salvation Army, and a couple of card tables, and get along fine.

Ick! The thought completely turns me off. I ended by saying I guessed I would stay in the Y at least until spring. I wouldn't want to live that far up—I wouldn't want to live any farther up than the 60s. And I don't want to worry about furnishing a place with three other people. They and Pat at the office make me feel as if I "don't want to be on my own", but the reason I want to stay at the Y is because I feel more on my own there. I can come and go any time I like and nobody cares or knows unless I want them to, and I have my own room and bath that I can do anything I like with, and I have access to a piano, and don't have to cook, which I think could more often be a pain than a pleasure.

I don't know if Barb was mad at me or just disappointed or if she'd been getting any inkling before that I was cooling on the idea. I probably won't see them too much; even to get to the East End Hotel you have to take two or three buses or switch trains twice (if you don't feel like walking).

So I'm definitely staying here. I want to get some 54" fabric and hem it and make curtains and a bedspread.

Of the fabric you mentioned, I'm most interested in the brown suede cloth. The paisley—I don't like to wear red much. But I'll get a pattern tomorrow, and if you haven't planned something for the brown yet, I would like a jumper with a belt across the back.

Thanks for sending the Jackie Kennedy article. It was very interesting. It's hard to believe that she actually rides around Central Park, and takes taxis, and even walks around. Sometime I'll surely see her.

Eiko and I went to the Museum of Modern Art last night. It's wonderful. The Guggenheim disappointed me but the Museum of Modern Art is full of the originals of pictures we studied in my modern art course at Penn State. It was really exciting to look at them, to walk up close and see each individual brush stroke of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" and think "he did that! he touched that!" There are so many of the artists I liked represented there. And the garden is so pretty. But admission is $1.00.

Going with Eiko was interesting. She is immersed in art and is very talented, I think. We had tea in her room afterward. It is an absolute mess with paintings, charcoals, collages, and equipment. She is studying at Pratt Institute at night and is also taking a Saturday class in figure oil painting at NYU this term.

I better get going on some work.

Mon. eve.

Asking for coat money

The longer I wait to write, the harder it is to get started. I feel like I owe you a tome.

I have fears about that pattern I sent; will it be a pain doing it in suede? With the curved zipper, etc.

Last Saturday I went shopping for a coat but couldn't find one for the money I had ($30). There was a lovely one at Macys and I thought surely I could get it on lay-away, but they don't have a lay-away plan. The saleslady said I wouldn't be able to open a charge (which I wouldn't do anyway) unless I'd been working at the same job for a couple of years.

The main thing I want this winter is a really gorgeous coat, and I've decided I would like it if you would give me about $40, as my main Christmas present, toward getting it. Then however more extravagant I wanted to be, I could save for it. I want a close-fitting coat, Jackie Kennedy style. In the meantime, maybe you better send my green coat. I'm not sure when I'm coming home.

Barb F. was home last weekend, said she saw Carol and Rose. Rose stayed two weeks in Akron, and is now working for her father again.

Barb, Judy and I went down to Greenwich Village Thursday night because Judy wanted to see it. It was very dull on a week night, but we discovered a terrific Italian restaurant where we had, I swear, the best pizza I have ever tasted. Maybe we were just hungry. But we'll have to go there when you all come for a day's visit in the city. Scanziani's.

Tuesday night Miss Kuusisto had a get-together for the 10th floor girls in her rooms. I met a new girl two doors down from me who is going to the New School for Social Research, and a secretary at Penney's, and the rest of the kids I knew. There are 220 permanents here now.

Saturday night Barb and I went to see "Repulsion" (horrible movie!). I went over to the East End first to see her room. It really is a cell, you can hardly turn around, and just a sink in the room, and she's paying more than I am. I can certainly see not wanting to stay there long. She and Judy and Eleanor have leased an apartment at 84th & Lexington, three rooms and a bath, unfurnished. Judy and Eleanor are both really nice, I know we'd all get along.

Yesterday afternoon Eiko and I went bike riding in Central Park. It was very nice, those smooth bikes-only paths, and the scenery is such perfection. Every view of Central Park is a gem, with the skyscrapers over the trees.

The (what is the matter with this fountain pen lately? It's supposed to have a fine point) shorthand class is going well except that they let people enroll after the starting date so the class is on different levels and the teacher has to divide her time among us.

Word hasn't come through about ABC contributing to the expense. If nothing by Friday, I'll ask what's happened to my request.

Don't have to worry about the heat here; I have the window open and the door open and am still hot. The bathroom is like an oven. But I'm glad they err on the warm side.

Vani was just over to borrow the Times. She told me about her job hunt at the banks when she first came here. She works for Bank of America, the largest bank in the world.

Good night.

Tues. night

The Big Blackout

Your telephone call was very nice the other night but, natch, it helped me postpone writing. Barbara R.'s letter surprised me. I don't really believe she'll ever come; all the advantages are in Boston for her. But she's coming home for Christmas. [Barbara R., a high school friend at a Boston college, must've been considering an eventual move to NYC.]

The Big Blackout [Tuesday, November 9, 1965] is Time's cover story this week. It really was something to remember, though I got out of it (the outside) as soon as possible. My bus had just hit Columbus Circle and even though the lights in the bus stayed on and the lights of all the cars, you immediately were aware of the blackness outside. Each intersection from then on was 'your-turn, my-turn', but my bus was a good pusher. I almost ran from my stop to the Y because it was frightening, it was so different. Now I think of Maxine in my office, who didn't leave till after the blackout when the buses were hopelessly mobbed. She walked from our office all the way to 2nd Avenue and 6th Street.

At the Y, the lobby was already full of people who just came in to get out of the dark and there were enough candles to see by. They were serving dinner as usual and I went in to eat. Then we sat at the table watching the passing scene until we were told we had to go to the auditorium to make room for other diners. So we were in there for hours, and another girl who is studying Gregg and I dictated to each other and played Jotto. Vani, the Thai girl, came in around ten, she had been stuck in a subway down around Canal Street. We were worried that they were going to keep us down there all night, rather than take chances on the dark stairs.

Finally, a little before midnight, they started taking us up, floor by floor. My flashlight didn't work (I don't have an extra socket to keep it in). The view from the tenth floor was very interesting, and I don't imagine it will recur very soon. Just big black rocks, and here and there a candle in a window.

Dottie, Mr. Vagnoni's secretary, was stuck in a subway on the way to the Staten island ferry. It was an express train, out in the middle of the tracks, and they had to walk a plank to get over to the catwalk that runs along the outside local tracks. The first two hours of the wait she did not have a seat. Then a big Negro woman with a "Christ is the Way" badge on began talking loudly about the men who wouldn't stand up for a lady. She said if somebody didn't give that lady a seat, she was going to let her sit on her lap.

Finally a man got up, and Dottie had a seat for the second half of the wait in the subway. She didn't get to her home on Staten Island till 6 a.m., and did not come in for work that day.

As Jean [Driscoll, my boss] says, we'll be hearing sad and funny stories about that night for months to come.

She is so nice. She has dictated more to me, and given me notes on letters she wanted me to compose. Something out of the routine, and I like it. The business world is the best of all possible worlds. Downstairs in the Y lobby now the Peace Corps has set up a booth. Carol can have it.

All is not sweetness and light at ABC, though. Still no word, though it has been three weeks, about my tuition. I paid for all of November, which they should have paid half of, so I'm counting on them to pay all of December. Because I'm buying a coat this Saturday, with my maximum price set at $80.00.

Shorthand is not losing its glow. I like it more and more the more I know. I can write 80 wpm now on familiar material. That seems silly, because when in business dictation are you going to have the same word combinations dictated over and over.

Sunday Eiko and I and another girl went bike riding in Central Park. We saw the skating rink in the SE corner of the park; it's open. Barb F. and I are going to go.

Barb and her roommates seem to get along tremendously. I played bridge with them again Thursday night. Unlike Pat and hers. She talks to them on the phone at the office, and it's always about someone throwing someone else's clothes on the floor, or carrying off the morning paper, or, most commonly, finances.

Barb now says that she may go home for Thanksgiving, so I don't know what my holiday will be like. But come up soon.

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