Girl Coming of Age in the 1960s


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Shouldn't repeat myself, but thank heaven I got a job as a computer programmer back in 1967. I can't think of any occupation I would've been better at. I happened into it because of two things: my mother had sent me a magazine article touting its opportunities, and then Olsten's assigned me a secretarial gig in J.C. Penney's computer department. The stars were all in alignment.

Letters from New York City - June 1967


A would-be computer programmer

Continued from previous page:

Diane Jackson has moved into a residence at 24 W 12th St., just off Fifth Ave. in Greenwich Village. It's a lovely townhouse ("Rosemary House") on a tree-lined street in the prettiest part of the village, run by the Women's Christian Temperance Union, whatever that is. But the main point—the rent is only $23 to $25 a week (including two meals a day), depending on whether you have a double or single room. My rent at the Y will be $33.50 a week beginning next week, when the rates go up $2.50 a week (presently $31).

That's a saving of $10 a week (I'd probably have to take a double room at first, and get on the waiting list for a single). And also, I am now leaning toward just that area in considering an apartment. So it would be a good opportunity to try out the neighborhood.

The cons are: I would have to use transportation to get to work (unless I worked at Met. Life). And Wednesday, going to Wall Street, I hit the crowded subways for the first time in my two years here. Horrible! I would never work on Wall Street, just because of them. Of course, from the village to midtown I could manage with buses, though they take longer.

Second con, loss of the Y swimming pool.

Third con, the dormishness of the place. I've had such lovely privacy for two years. This townhouse has four floors, accommodates around 25 girls. One bathroom on each floor, containing two showers, two toilets, and four sinks. Would probably have to share a room (maybe with Billie; she put in an application too). Phone in the hall. Sign in and out.

Of course, I might not be able to get in at all. They may not have any vacancies soon.

It is a charming place. There's a patio in back with lawn chairs. Through the fence you can see other people's carefully tended little back lawns and gardens. There are trees in back, and birds! It's a very ritzy location, I don't know how these charitable organizations can afford such addresses. The furnishings are lovely, very homey, each room is different, beautifully painted, with shiny dark hardwood floors.

So, this is one of those times when it seems like there are too many choices all at one time. Mother, you better visit me again very soon (next week?), because if I move into this place, I won't be able to have overnight guests again until I get my own apartment.

- - - - -

I just came back from lunch in Esso's very subsidized company restaurant. It's catered by Schrafft's and serves the regular restaurant food, to your table by waitresses, not cafeteria-style. Only the prices are different, and are they ever! I had the cheese soufflé with string beans and tomatoes (delicious, and regularly $1.35 in a Schrafft restaurant, I've had it before), which cost 62 cents here. And a cup of coffee for 8 cents (20 cents in a regular Schrafft's). Unbelievable!

Another interesting thing—they had the calorie number for every item on the menu. The soufflé lunch was 375 calories; the coffee, 0.

Tomorrow is supposed to be a nice day, and I will go to Jones Beach. The past few evenings I've spent helping Diane move. We planned to go to Shakespeare in the park Tuesday evening, but it rained.

Last night I went swimming. There may be a pool at N.Y.U. around Washington Square, if I move down there.

Summer is so wonderful, even on wet cool days like today.

The bus was an hour late getting in Sunday night.

After the week at home, it was very hard to reconcile myself to going back to work and facing three mornings of "first day". Rose talks about her ulcer—working temporary is one way to develop one, I bet. Most of my jobs have been very nice, working with nice people. But still, you sometimes get knotty feelings in the stomach from never being completely relaxed. I will be glad to have a permanent job again.

I have nothing to do! Today is Esso's company picnic and most of the employees are at it, at a country club in New City, N.Y. Only five people are left in my area. There is a Redbook magazine in this desk and I am going to take it out and read it.

My glasses feel fine.

Just call, Mother, the evening before you plan to arrive.

Tues. night

Hired by Metropolitan Life

Whenever anything happens, it seems to happen so fast! There's never much time to think it all over. Everyone wants your decision right away.

So—I am now an employee of Metropolitan Life, at $125 a week. They have 11 cafeterias in their two huge buildings which serve free lunches to employees.

The thought of all that money staggers me. And I won't have to pay for lunches or transportation (it's a 15 minute walk to 24 West 12th). And my rent at the new residence is only $23 a week! Think of all the money I can save! At least $25 or $30 a week.

I bet they wouldn't let me live at that residence if they knew my salary. When I filled out my application there, I put down "temporary assignments thru Olsten's Agency - approx. $90/week."

Today I went to Jones Beach at 9:00 a.m. and took the last bus back to the City at 5:00. After 4, when most of the people were packing up or had already left, I walked up the beach at the edge of the water. It was beautiful, the water was warm, the surf very gentle.

And I thought, I am leaving this forever. I am taking a responsible job with regular promotions (6 mo. reviews) and will be a regular conservative 2-weeks-vacation-a-year member of the business world from here on in. It's the end of two years of messing around, of not feeling tied down. In a way it's nice, and I will have the money to do more, and to get my own apartment. But it's also frightening, like being sucked into a trap.

But I'm sure I will have much more of a feeling that I'm contributing, and doing something worthwhile. Those temporary jobs were getting to be harder and harder to take. Many people have the idea that a temporary is stupider than the average person.

Yesterday I was at Metropolitan at 8:30 a.m., because you have to fill out an application and be initially screened before taking the programmer test, which is given once a day at 9:30.

About 25 people took the test with me. Most of them looked like June graduates. It was one of these tests with an answer sheet that can be checked by a computer, so we waited in the test room for 10 or 15 minutes for the results. It was hard, the math part, harder than Equitable's. (By the way, I was thinking about that problem I wrote you, and the answer I get is 35,000.) I didn't think I did well at all.

The tester read off a long string of names and asked them to go with Miss Jones back to the Employment Dept. Then several other people, apparently already employees of the company who were trying to qualify to become trainees, were told to return to their departments, that Personnel would notify them later of the results. That left only me, and I went with the tester to another room, where in solitary confinement I was given a 45-minute math test which required me to remember back to Miss Hand's classes for algebra and geometry formulas, stuff I haven't used since then like pi and hypotenuses and the volume of a cone.

I was so honestly demoralized from the first test that I thought I was being given this one because I might have been the only one of the new applicants who was not fresh out of school, and they wanted to be sure I hadn't forgotten my math in the two years I've been working.

Imagine my happiness to hear at my interview after lunch that I had made very high scores, and was the only one of that day's batch of applicants who qualified! Delirious happiness. Confidence comes surging back.

Mrs. McLain, my interviewer in the Personnel Dept., explained all the benefits (I am entitled to two days vacation around Christmas, and the regular two weeks next year), and I will be well covered with insurance again. They arranged an interview for me with Mr. Bender in the Programming Dept. and he was very nice. Everyone I had contact with there yesterday was fantastically nice, and that swayed me very much.

After talking to me for half an hour, he said the job was mine, and I said I was—I don't know what I said, or what he said, but anyhow I accepted and went off to the Medical Dept. for my physical, and start next Wednesday, which is when they begin their 4-week training program. They told me on the phone before I went that there was no training program, I guess because they do hire people in between the starting dates of the program, and just give them books to read at their desks until the next one begins. But I am glad to be starting with a group of people.

I will have a desk in a large room. But that's okay. Having your own independent private work is better than having more privacy but being someone's slave.

Oh, pangs of insecurity! A new home and a new job all in one week. My address beginning this Saturday July 1 will be:

24 West 12 Street
New York, New York 10011

I wish you could come this week, Mother, but Spook would probably get awfully lonely and not eat right. Maybe the whole family can come for a day sometime this summer and go to Jones Beach. It's almost as nice as Hatteras.

Because I'm moving Saturday, I've decided not to come home this weekend. But may come again soon, to give you first-hand first impressions of this new way of life.

Tomorrow I think I will go to the beach again, and then work Thursday and Friday for the last time as a secretary. You may well ask how I am affording these days off—I am totally depleting my savings account tomorrow morning, will open a new one at whatever bank Metropolitan uses.

Gee, I'm lonely tonight! It's just the idea of all this change. It's so nice to have a family and a home in the background, just to know it's there, something stable. People like Diane Jackson, whose parents both died before she was ten, I don't know how they get along. You have to have someone who is always there.

Must get to bed early so I can be at the bank right at 9 a.m., and then speed over to the Port Authority to catch the last (9:30) bus to the beach.

Sun. eve.

Living at Rosemary House, 24 W. 12

I am writing at a desk like the kind in Chris's room (the old one).

How can I tell you what it's like here?! I love it. It has so much charm, atmosphere, etc. Billie and I have a double room the size of my single at the Y. It's on the fourth floor (groan) but it faces W. 12th St., which is a fascinating view. A tree-lined street. [I drew a diagram of the room: two equal halves. Starting on either side of the door to the hall were: closet, bureau with mirror, bed, desk & chair. Between the two desks were an armchair and floorlamp and a window onto the street.]

Everything here is beautifully painted. No chipping or peeling anywhere. The halls are an unusual deep blue with white trim. Our room is a cheerful yellow. The furnishings are all old fashioned. The beds are hard as rock, and crunch as if they were filled with straw.

The food is fantastic compared to the Y. Mabel, the cook, has been here 17 years and is very creative. Yesterday for lunch we had fresh cooked asparagus on toast with cheese sauce and chopped egg on top. Delicious! With homemade cookies and peaches for dessert. This morning at breakfast there was homemade coffee cake. (Wasn't here for the noonday meal today because I went to Jones Beach where, despite a glowing weather report, the "morning mist" did not "burn off". Instead, it rained. What a waste!)

When you come to visit me you could have a meal here if I notified them a day in advance. $2.00 apiece.

Last night we went out to a nice little burger place near here and had shishkebab and a tossed salad (only $1.45) that also tasted very good. Maybe because we had good appetites from all the exertion of moving.

Moving wasn't too difficult. We did it in three trips.

The drawing room on the second floor is beautifully furnished. There are always fresh flowers there. And one wall is bookcases. It's quite a collection—the complete works of Kipling, Twain, Scott, Dickens, all matched sets, and a varied selection of all kinds of other books. Also a large magazine rack. Rosemary House must subscribe to at least six, including Newsweek, Glamour, and Good Housekeeping. There is also a very-out-of-tune grand piano in this room, right by the open breezy street window.

I sat out on the patio this afternoon while my clothes were in the washer. The smell of greenery! There are no trees on our patio, but they overhang from adjacent yards, and when looking through the fence at the back at what looks like the well-kept garden-yard of a one-family townhouse, I feel like I'm peeking in the secret garden.

I'll be glad for work to start on Wednesday. Right now, with nothing much to do, and everything new, I don't feel like a member of it all yet. And now, I'm looking forward to that job.

It was so nice getting a letter from you, Daddy. It was here in my box when I moved in. You write like you talk, like Mother does, and I loved hearing from you for a change. It was a good idea to Xerox those documents; I wouldn't want the originals lying around for me to lose.

I can hear a guitar player from the building across the street. This is a very musical street. I've heard several pianos on this block.

Just a couple of weeks until you leave for Kansas. I'm really sorry to be missing that. But, this move has provided a real change, like a vacation would. And I don't think I could have stood those temporary jobs much longer. Thursday and Friday I worked at Magazines for Industry, which publishes several trade magazines. I worked for the Dairy & Ice Cream Field Trade Journal. Those were two very busy days. Late Friday my supervisor asked if I would be interested in a permanent job there. I was very happy to tell her I'm off the market.

Friday night Billie and I went to see "Casino Royale" at one of those 42nd St. movie houses, where the atmosphere is not so hot, but the price is only $1.25, compared to $2.50 at the regular theaters. I didn't go for that picture very much, it is a spoof on the regular Bonds, and I would rather see a regular Bond.

I don't know where I'm going to sew here, or even if I can, in the room, anyway. This desk, with a leaf that drops down, is not strong enough to put the machine on. Maybe on the dresser, which is a low one. The rules say "no electrical appliances in rooms except radios", but I can't believe they mean to exclude clocks, shavers, record players. There are many rules here.

It's 11:00. Billie has to go back to work at Good Housekeeping tomorrow. Met. Life is closed tomorrow, a good sign. I like the looks of it very much so far.

Good night.

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