What "Mad Men" writers forgot
The depiction of the late 1950s and early 1960s is indeed on target in this TV show. What a repressive era! I shudder just viewing the show, because I lived through that era. It was just as awful as depicted in "Mad Men." But there's one point the otherwise perfectionist writers missed -- shorthand.
In offices of that era, shorthand was indeed in flower. Sure, women could get jobs as typists, if they didn't have any shorthand, but they got paid a lot less, like $150 a month. "Secretaries," however, meaning women who could take 125 words per minute dictation (and type up the correspondence at 90 errorless words per minute) were considered more valuable, so they got more money -- $190 a month at least, and more in a high-class office like the one pictured in Mad Men.
Yes, I was there -- not at Sterling Cooper, thank goodness, but in another large office of the day. We women used to gather in the ladies room -- there was no "break room" like Sterling Cooper had, but at least the ladies room had a sofa, on which we used to sit for as long as we dared be away from our desks. And one of the ever-popular topics of conversation went like this; "Imagine, I had to do 125 wpm to get out of business school, and my boss can't dictate 125 words per hour!"
The joke was that with only a couple of rare exceptions, most of the men (there were NO women executives in those days, at least not where I could see them) were pitiful at dictating. Most of them took the escape path consisting of writing their own letter -- usually in block printing -- and putting it on our desk with a timid "Can you type this up?"
With a totally straight face, we nodded, took the poor little draft, and made it look like an actual piece of correspondence.
The women in the "Mad Men" offices lack those shorthand notebooks, packed with what is now pretty much a dead language. But back in the day, after getting some dictation we secretaries would rush to our typewriters to transcribe the shorthand before it "cooled off." Meaning, if you had to leave it until the next day, you were sort of doomed. Shorthand is tough enough to read back when it's fresh in your mind and you sort of remember what the Big Cheese was babbling about. But if it's a few hours, or Heaven forbid, a day old -- you're doomed. On the brighter side, however, you can sort of make it up yourself, because by that time your Big Cheese has probably also forgotten what he said.
Oh, one other thing to be mentioned; whoever designs the beautiful costumes the women wear forgot one thing -- those clocks in our stockings. No, not the tick-tock kind. "Clocks" were what little designs embridered into the stockings were called. I remember I had one pair of stockings with checkerboard heels, and another with a little butterfly at my ankle. But the bad thing about them was, if you got a runner in one stocking -- which always happened eventually -- the whole pair was lost. Whereas with regular stockings, if you got a runner in one, you threw it away and matched it up with the first other stocking you could find in your drawer.
This was, of course, before panty hose were ever invented.