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Girl Friday: 1956

Girl Friday: 1956

        Mary Cumming, Vassar '57, has an interesting first job in New York as a secretary in the office of industrial designer Raymond Loewy. She landed the job without the help of friends and now gets $70 a week. Several young men dance attendance on Mary, but she would like to work two years more before settling down ...

1956. "New York. Mary Cumming, 21, secretary in the office of designer Raymond Loewy." The young lady last seen here crossing the street. Photo by Phillip Harrington for the Look magazine assignment "Career Girl." View full size.

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Pretty Girls!

Come On! All this talk of typewriters, someone needs to nominate this very classy young women to the 'pretty lady' category. You all need to get your priorities straight

Royal Model

It's a KMM, considered by many collectors to be the best typewriter Royal made. The "MM" stands for Magic Margin, a patented system that claimed to make setting margins quicker and easier. In the late 40s, Remington was sued by Royal for using a similar mechanism on their model KMC (Keyboard Margin Control) and Remington was forced to drop the feature from their product line.

Career Tracks

In the 1970s and 80s I worked with a woman executive who had entered the job market a few years earlier than Miss Cumming, and she had an interesting take on the job prospects for women who could type.

When she was in high school, she was told she could not graduate unless she passed a typing proficiency class, a requirement not imposed on the boys.

This infuriated her mother, who marched into the principal's office, and soon after into a series of school district board meetings, where she eventually succeeded in getting that requirement waived for her daughter, individually, but not for the other girls. Her argument? "If you teach her to type she'll never make it out of the steno pool!"

Fresh out of college and entering the business world, my friend found that her mother had been right. When a corporate hiring officer liked her performance in a job interview but found that she couldn't type, he shrugged and placed her in a junior management position at more than double the salary a proficient typist would have received.

I am more interested in theWECo 300-series phones on the desk...

...Especially Western Electric commissioned Loewy to design them. One can almost read the number on the closest one.


An electric would have been a downgrade

Her Royal, and the equivalent Underwood (my preference), worked better than the electrics of the time by quite a lot, at least for good typists. This is the "pre-Selectric" era and the electric typewriters were essentially motorized manuals. Even the best of those were excruciatingly slow, especially the carriage return, and significantly less reliable. Actually, it took the Selectric quite a while to become as good as the manuals.

Bakelite Wonder

We have the exact same phone on display in our living room. It still works but we disconnected it when we chucked our land line and went totally cellular. Great conversation piece. Our granddaughter could not figure out how to use the rotary dial. The handset is heavy enough to pound nails with.

She likes lions

Patience and Fortitude.

Royal Typewriter

When I started my career as a reporter in 1973, the paper was using Royal typewriters very much like hers. I believe it was the Model 440. It was a great machine, easy for even slow typists -- like me -- to use. When the paper starting using computers, several reporters bought theirs to use at home. I suppose most of them are collecting dust or in landfills by now. Too bad.


I wonder if that's a volume of the Oxford English Dictionary she's copying, and if so, why.

Also there's a German/English dictionary on the desk.

Maybe she translates.

What A Wonderful and Gracious Lady

We need more people like Mary in this world. I just read all the things that she did and would have been proud to call her my friend if I had known her.

The fact that she loved art and was a fabulous person to boot, makes her special. The world will be a little emptier without her. And, she loved those children in the Bahamas with unconditional love that they would name a place after her.

Thanks Ormington for bringing us up to date on this wonderful lady. That would be thanks to JerryM, not Ormington: Baxado

Did Vassar train secreteries?

It was not difficult to find a job in the mid to late 50s: especially if you had a college degree. But as a secretary with a degree from Vassar? What a shame. What a terrible waste of talent.

[Maybe she was a lousy speller. - Dave]

Being a good speller was at the top of the list for a secretary: On second look being a good speller would be waved for her (as you suggest?)

[Psst. It's "waived." And "secretaries." - Dave]

Royal typewriter

I have the same Royal Magic Margin typewriter, built around 1945. It is a heavy workhouse, and in fact I found it in the basement of the daily newspaper in which I worked as a sports reporter for 15 years. This really is a perfect typewriter for the reporter, based on its heavy construction!

A number of years ago, while getting my Masters degree, I decided to use it to type a 20-page paper for class. I absolutely loved hearing the clack-click-clack-DING and it really became a joy to write as opposed to laborious. After handing it to my professor, it dawned on me that he better not lose it ... there's no such thing file, open, print!

Carbon Copy

And that, young people, is where that cc: comes from on your email.

Carbon Paper!

There's carbon paper in them thar sheets!

Mary Cumming Tiedemann, 1935-2012

        Mary Cumming Tiedemann, whose love of art and nature brought her to East Hampton in the early 1960s, died at Stony Brook University Medical Center on Oct. 7 following a stroke. She was 77. Continue reading ...

Streamlining Begins at Home

Raymond Loewy must have been so busy out working his design wonders on all those Studebakers and locomotives that he missed modernizing the typewriters right in his own office. I can see how Miss Cumming would need "patience and fortitude" for typing on a machine with that much wind resistance.

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