Girl Coming of Age in the 1960s


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Working at the tiny Harriet Hubbard Ayer office was strange. Even in 1967 I was surprised the company still existed, and this outpost of it seemed doomed. I have two memories of it: (1) Eager to dispose of some annoying visitor, without any advance notice I took him straight in to see my boss, who was caught eating his sack lunch. (2) An older male employee, who had an aristocratic title, repeatedly told me his plans to go to a "thé dansant", as though hoping I'd show up there too if he supplied enough details about it.

Letters from New York City - April 1967

Mon. morn.

Working at Harriet Hubbard Ayer

New job this week. I'm sitting at a desk on the 9th floor at Fifth Ave. & 57th St. It's the Standard Metals Corporation. Five permanent employees, only three here today. Their home office is in Denver; this is a newly opened branch set up because they are buying Harriet Hubbard Ayer Cosmetics Co. this week. They have just taken over this partial floor and the furnishings are sketchy yet, with five or six of the dozen or so offices empty. I don't have anything to do yet, just answer the phone. But it's so entertaining just getting a look at all these different setups.

Last week I was offered a permanent job with Singer. Mr. Clark, who I worked for, wanted me to stay with the company (but he already has a secretary, who was working for one of the V.P.s all the time I was there). He recommended me to the personnel dept., and they offered me a job and would have paid the fee to Olsten's, but I didn't accept because the job didn't look too interesting. I told them I didn't want a secretarial job unless it involved a lot of correspondence, like Mr. Clark's work. The only non-secretarial spot they had was a record-keeping job on the managers of all the Singer Center stores over the U.S. It didn't look very interesting or challenging. They may call me if something else comes up. And Mr. Clark said to keep in touch, in case Karen (his secretary) leaves or is promoted.

That job with Mr. Clark was really nice. We moved up to the 60th floor for the last three weeks where Mr. Clark had a bigger office which was in a group of three offices with us three secretaries outside with a little waiting room area for the job applicants who came and went. The two others were very nice. Betty Cosloff was an older woman, lives with her mother out in New Jersey. It takes her two hours each way to get to work. Four hours a day for commuting. Gets up at 5:30 a.m. She used to work at Singer's plant in Elizabeth, N.J., and got promoted to the city executive offices. That's one promotion I could do without.

The other secretary was circa my age, Maureen Oser. I must tell you about how she became Mrs. Oser (I really do have time on my hands, you can see).

Maureen Delaney's first secretarial job after dropping out of college was with an insurance company, where she was secretary to Lee Oser, ten years older than she, single, "arrogant". Never anything between them then, not a hint, she says. Worked for him for a year, then stormed out one day when the company wouldn't give her a raise. Went to work for Women's Wear Daily for 18 months. During this time she did have a little phone contact with Lee, as he handled her stock. And also during this time he too left the insurance company and started working independently.

After this 18 months, Maureen quit the Women's Wear job and went on a 2-3 month trip to Europe. Just prior to leaving she instructed Lee by phone to sell some of her stock to finance things, pay her rent, etc.

When she got back she found an eviction notice waiting for her from the landlord, and nothing else paid either. Lee hadn't been able to sell the stock, it was "frozen" or something, and hadn't been able to contact her in Europe as she was constantly moving around. She called him to find out what had happened, and he took her to lunch that day to explain it. And proposed during lunch. She told him he must be kidding, but called him at his office at 4 p.m. the same day and accepted.

They were married a couple months later, during which time Maureen worked for him at his office. After marriage she got her present job with Singer, has been there about two years. They want to have a baby, she has lost a pair of twins. If no baby by next year, they will put in adoption papers.

That is Maureen's story, which I find very romantic.

She and I went to one of the restaurants under Rockefeller Center last Friday, Ye Olde Tymes Buffet. All you can eat for $2.25. It's wonderful! The food is delicious, shrimp salad and—can't begin to list the stuff. All good American food, hot and cold dishes. Delicious bread, especially the black bread. And also all the desserts you want. Apple strudel, deep dish pies, cheese cake. It's terrific. Only open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

I got your note, and sent Johnny a cute card right away. But talk about freak accidents. That sounds idiotic.

You said the old sofa's in the family room under the window. You mean where the kitchen table is? That sounds like maybe a nice idea. Someplace to go to read away from the TV. And the new one must look beautiful. Have to come home again and see it.

The next time I come home I have to go to the dentist. Does Dr. Lutz work on Saturdays? If not, please figure out how I could work it. Maybe he has weekday evening hours sometimes. (I'd probably come home for a Thursday & Friday through the weekend, or a Monday & Tuesday).

I am a real sewing nut lately. All I do is sew. You feel like you're really getting something done! Last week I finished the tattersall dress and like it better than the black one. Now I'm practically done with a jumper.

I'm not sure if I'll like this jumper. It's gathered on a square-cut yoke. I meant to get a crisp black cotton with white polka dots. I ended up getting, at Lord & Taylor, some faintly crinkly, sheerish Swiss cotton, black with white polka dots, but so lightweight that I have to line it (got black Sibonne for lining). I'm just now attaching the bottom part to the yoke. Have to get a sheerish white blouse to wear with it. But am not sure I like the whole thing, and kind of wish I had gotten something crispy.

It's now 11:30. I've interrupted this for one letter and several phone calls. But much prefer a job where I'm working! At least Mr. Johnson, who I'm working for now, suggested reading a book, so I will feel okay doing so. Though not very okay. They pay Olsten's $131.25 a week for me! To sit here!

Last night I started giving Diane Jackson piano lessons, at $1.00 a lesson. Hope it lasts, because it's fun, but it's hard to keep these things on a businesslike basis. I'm teaching her the chord system, and it's so rewarding to learn! You can play right away. My little girl is going to learn it right from the beginning. Beethoven & Brahms later, if she ever develops a taste for them. But very few kiddies have such tastes, I am convinced. They prefer songs they can sing.

Lunch hour. Want to mail this.

Thurs. morn.

Now I'm at CBS

(on CBS NEWS letterhead:)

This is where I am for this week and the next two. At CBS, but out in the sticks at their Production studios. Just like ABC's studios were way up on W. 66th, CBS's are way over on 57th between 10th & 11th Avenues. Thank goodness they have a company cafeteria here, because there are no restaurants in the vicinity.

I am not busy this week because my boss, who I haven't met yet, is in California for the week. Pamela Caadwal-Ilott, Director of Religious Broadcasting. She is producer of such things as "Lamp Unto My Feet" and "Look Up and Live" on Sundays.

While she's away I'm supposed to catalog the books in her office. You should see her office—lined with books from floor to ceiling. And Buddhas, Jewish candelabras, statues of saints, crosses, model of a temple, incense burners, paintings, medals, plaques, certificates, etc., etc., etc.

—Break while I catalog some more books—

Now it's Friday, 5:10 p.m. After jobs where the quitting time is 4:30 or 4:45, 5:30 is awfully hard to take.

At least we don't have snow here. But it's still miserably cold.

You say you are sorry you didn't shrink your Swiss material. Me likewise. I am almost done with another dress on the same pattern as the black one of some Swiss cotton I got at Altman's last Saturday. It's beautiful fabric, white background under a brown plaid. And the crosswise of the plaid is raised, like ribbons across. It's sheer enough to need lining. I've done a terrific job matching the plaid, and if it shrinks after all my loving care—!

Two other girls and I have tickets for the circus tomorrow night at the Garden.

Yesterday Pam sent me a box of chocolates as a thank-you for having her the two nights. I gave them all away as soon as possible. Knew I'd have eaten half the box if it ever got up to my room.

Tues. aft.

Maybe I'll be a dress designer

Things are slow now. I've finished cataloging all the books in my boss' office. And this is one of those primarily telephone jobs that I hate. I don't hear people give their names right, they have to spell them which annoys them, and Miss Ilott doesn't take all calls, which requires screening, and lots of people want to see her or want information, and since I'm just a fill-in I don't have the information and consequently am not too happy here. Don't want to stay next week, which I said I would, but probably will.

The circus was good Saturday night. It's something different in the way of entertainment, and was nice for a change. Friday night Judy & I went to Radio City to see "Two for the Road" with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney. You would like it, a comedy. And the Rockettes were the best I've seen them.

Blah. Forty-five minutes more of nothing to do.

Guess what, I have a new direction in life. The business world has lost some of its fascination since I became a secretary and started wondering where you go from here.

Today I called the Fashion Institute of Technology for their evening catalog. I am going to become a dress designer. The big new plan.

You do need to have something to aim for. All this winter and spring I've been kind of disillusioned with work, specifically with being a lowly slave of a secretary. Being a secretary can be nice, but you have to like the boss and respect him and he has to treat you right. And even so, you inevitably wonder why you can't be on the order-giving side, and being a secretary looks to me in most cases to be a blocked-in proposition—once a secretary, always a secretary.

Anyhow, lately I can hardly wait to get home at night to sew, and hate to leave my projects for the phone and typewriter world.

I put in the zipper on the brown & white plaid I'm making so that no stitching shows and it looks so nice, since I can never get a straight line of machine stitching. And Saturday got some more material at Altman's, beige Moygashel linen, very heavy with lacey bands about 3" apart. I want to get a shift pattern with a yoke for it, so the bands run horizontally on the yoke and vertically on the skirt.

The saleslady said that linen is washable but must be preshrunk first in hot water. So I hope she's right. I always thought linen had to be drycleaned, and it is only on her word that it is washable that I bought this material.

It is now 5:15. Just handled a long phone message very well and feel better about the whole thing. But still bored.

Barbara Fogarty wrote to me. She likes it in Texas, but finds her two Texas apartment-mates do not make for such congenial living as the two she had in NYC (who came here with her from Univ. of Pa.).

She says she has arranged a five-day weekend pass for the class reunion in June, which I think is the 17th. So I may come home and go to it too. And am wondering if I might just as well wait till then to come home again, and come for a week. Not sure yet.

Bill & Judy are certainly having bad luck with their cars. But it is much more risky when you have to leave your car parked on a busy street.

Rain all day today. Last year I put away my winter coat in the middle of April, I remember it exactly, because the last time of the year I wore it was the day I went for an interview with Stewart Cheifet. And this year I am still wearing it every day.

5:20. Time to start folding up my tent, so that I do not end up here one millisecond longer than necessary.

P.S. - Come for another visit, Mother. There must be something to shop for.


Miss Ilott is unavailable

I'm glad you mentioned your change in church membership in your last letter. I just wrote a letter to Reverend Sweet, a copy of which is enclosed, and am happy to get that disposed of. Hopefully disposed of. I have visions of them writing back that no one should be without a church or something, and that they will keep me on the books until I find another.

All your new plants will be beautiful. Especially the pussywillow, which I love. A girl at the Y bought some at a street stand and gave me a couple. They are so nice to touch, never mind the looking. Hope your cold is better, Mother. It's this impossible weather! I'm still wearing my winter coat. Please please don't let it mean that the whole summer will be on the cool side. This is to be my summer at the beach!

A book you would like is "Catherine the Great" by Zoe Oldenbourg. It's in paperback, 75 cents I think. Get it if you see it, it's a really fascinating story, not about her reign, but of her childhood and youth and how she got to the throne. RIght now I'm on "The Mandelbaum Gate", which isn't quite so good, but still interesting. I have this thing about books on far-off places right now.

Yesterday I got a letter from Carol, not too informative other than she has definitely made a switch from Heinz to Cees [boyfriends, while she's in the Peace Corps in Liberia], and that an Englishman from a timber camp down the road from her is coming to New York in the next two months and she has given him my address.

This is my last of three weeks at CBS; very undemanding weeks. My boss, Miss Ilott, is presently in a small private hospital, where I visited her on Monday to take some work over. She has been here in the office only one afternoon the whole time I've been here, the first week being on a business trip in California. About all I do is answer occasional fan mail, answer the incessant phone, and answer some business letters that require temporary replies like "because of a ten-day business trip, and now a week's absence due to illness, Miss Ilott's mail has been accumulating unanswered. She has asked me to tell you that she regrets the delay, and will certainly reply as soon as she gets back to the office." etc.

Saturday night I went to a revival of "The Sound of Music" at the City Center. It was kind of disappointing after the magnificent scenery in the movie.

I am working on a new dress—very heavy linen with lacey stripes. Got an empire pattern with short sleeves, and have cut it out with the strips going across the bodice and down the skirt. Did I tell you, I have an appointment at the Fashion Institute next Tuesday evening to discuss my new career.

I think pretty definitely I will wait till June 9 to come home (that Friday night) and stay for a week. The high school class reunion is the next Friday or Saturday night, and Barbara Fogarty says she will be home for it, so I will go if she goes. Just four weeks away. You can make a couple of dentist appointments for me in the evenings that week of June 9-18, because this is pretty definite, if that week is all right with you. When are you taking Daddy's week of vacation from last year, I thought you had to take it by a certain date?

Quitting time again. It's gone fast today.


Resigning from my old church

Dear Reverend Sherwood:

My mother has recently written me that the family is transferring membership to the Fleetville Methodist Church, but leaving my membership with Clarks Summit Methodist. She says that mine is "one of those problem memberships, nonresident and noncontributing." Which is true, and I feel guity receiving the Methodist Messenger and other notices when I am not even paying postage.

Since I will probably never come back to Clarks Summit to live, and my family will be attending a different church when I do come home for visits, I would like to cancel my membership. I realize that this may make it more complicated when I want to join another church, but I haven't decided on one yet, and feel that it would be best just to suspend any membership for a while.

Thank you for taking care of this for me.

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