Good Afternoon
Good Afternoon

My Turn: Well prepared to be a secretary — or so I thought

Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe reflects about what she did

Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe reflects about what she did -- and didn't -- know about the secretarial job she took the summer after she graduated from high school in 1955. Credit: Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe

The year was 1955. I had just graduated from Far Rockaway High School and would be attending Brooklyn College in the fall.

I was hired as a secretary for an insurance company on Jamaica Avenue in Queens. It was a two-month summer-replacement position.

I thought my secretarial skills were adequate: shorthand, 120 words per minute, and typing on a Royal typewriter, 70 words per minute with 95 percent accuracy.

I knew the difference between pica type and elite type, and never to begin a business letter with the words, “Let me make this perfectly clear.”

My high school business teacher, Florence Bressler, gave me some good advice:

  • Two-thirds of “secretary” is “secret.”
  • Never end a business telephone call with “ta ta for now.”
  • A secretary’s pad is to write in — not spend the night in.
  • For problems with the postage machine, call Pitney Bowes.
  • One typo can mean the difference between “hired” and “fired.”
  • In business communication, “KISS” means “Keep It So Short, Keep It So Simple.”
  • Office gossip is like a grapefruit . . . it has to be juicy to be good.
  • A “SIG MAC” is a signature machine.
  • If the boss asks you to get his broker on the phone, don’t ask, “Stock or pawn?”
  • The only person who ever got his work done by Friday was Robinson Crusoe.
  • Don’t ever get sick the day before a company audit.
  • And so, I arrived in the office on Day One. Everything went beautifully. I took dictation, transcribed letters, filled in some form letters and typed invoices.
  • I knew to leave three or four inches of “breathing space” in each file drawer. There were a few young men who could possibly brighten up the dating scene. This was long before internet dating sites like JDate, Chai Expectations,, and lectures titled, “Have I Got A Guy for You — What Really Happens When Mom Fixes You Up.”
  • The other secretaries invited me out to lunch. I joined them despite the advice of Mrs. Bressler: “Eat lunch at your desk. Open a file or report to give the impression that you are staying in to work.”
  • At 5 p.m., just as I was about to leave, the office manager handed me a packet of material and said, “Marjorie, would you put this in the circular file?”
  • I walked all around the office looking for a round file. I was terribly confused. The office staff began to laugh.
  • I knew what a “rubber finger” was (an office tool to help turn pages quickly) but no one had taught me that the “circular file” was the garbage can.
  • Oh, I had so much to learn!
  • Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
  • Syosset

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