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Most of the photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs, 20 to 200 megabytes in size) from the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) Many were digitized by LOC contractors using a Sinar studio back. They are adjusted by your webmaster for contrast and color in Photoshop before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here.

 
 
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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • NORTH TUSCANY COAST, 1948

Room 509: 1920

Room 509: 1920

Washington, D.C., circa 1920. "Office with women and typewriters" is all it says here. National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.

 

I didn't realize that women wore spats

However, the woman in the foreground is wearing them.
I always identified them as a form of wear exclusively reserved for men.

The last time I saw them worn was back in the early 1960's.
I was passing by an old investment house in the financial district of a large city.

A chauffeured Rolls-Royce came around the corner and picked up an elegantly dressed older gent.
I noticed that he was wearing spats; what a grand old guy!

Who left the tuna sandwich in the icebox overnight?

Yes, it is an office.
Yes, there are typewriters.
Yes, the people in the office are women.

But I am not convinced that this is where they sit when they do their work each day. This appears to be some kind of meeting or gathering taking place.

Notice that the women to the right have no desks and there is really only one typewriter per table. (One typewriter has been moved to sit at the front table, with another already there, so the women with the inkwells and pens have a place to write).

What this company did, might suggest what kind of meeting this was. But it seems clear to me that this is not how this room looked when these women were doing their daily tasks.

[This might be the District Building on Pennsylvania Avenue. Room 509 is where bids submitted for various municipal contracts were unsealed. Anyone there on the fifth floor today, send us a pic! - Dave]

This has been a test

If it were real, you would all have your own desk.

It looks like some sort of pre-employment exam, testing the candidates for reading speed, comprehension and speling.

The lady in a chair in the foreground and the other in back with the whip in her left hand pretty much precludes an every-day-is-like-this situation.

Working conditions

There is not much desk space for them -- they make the modern cubicle look like a spacious office in comparison. Note the additional bunch stuffed into the next room as well.

It must be stifling to have that many people working in the same room on hot summer days in Washington DC, before the days of air conditioning. No ceiling fan for these ladies, either.

And based on the relative lack of clutter, I expect that they remove all their belongings at the end of the day, rather than keep papers around till next time.

Studying the manual

They are all trying to figure out how these things work. "Now where's the ON switch?"

 
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