The Washington Secretaries History Project
|1789. The inauguration of George Washington creates jobs for men interested
in becoming copyists [duplicating documents by hand], clerks and secretaries in
the new administration. Since penmanship is a traditionally male skill, opportunities for
women are rare until 1854 when the U.S. Patent Office begins outsourcing work to
women at home.
1854. Clara Barton becomes the first woman to be employed by the federal government
when she was hired as a clerk. Complaints from male colleagues lead to her demotion to
1883. Passage of the Civil Service Act brings about changes to hiring procedures and
standardizes hours and leave time throughout the executive departments of the federal
1887. Patent Office Commissioner Halbert Eleazer Paine orders the new Sholes &
Glidden Type Writer for his offices. Other departments follow suit and by 1892 the U.S.
Government becomes the largest user of typewriters in the world. Between 1880 and 1900
the number of women employed in clerical occupations grows from 7,000 to more than
1900. Leona Wells becomes the first female Senate staff member when she is hired by
Senator Francis Warren (R-WY).
1916. On January 27, 1916 President Woodrow Wilson announces his opposition to the
19th amendment which would provide voting rights for women.
1918. Women from across the nation respond to a government recruitment campaign, “For
Men Must Fight and Women Must Work” and converge on Washington, D.C. to fill
1,500 clerical positions previously held by men. A few blocks away senators debate their
competency to vote.
1919. After the war ends Wilson becomes an advocate for women's voting rights. On June
4, 1919, the senate passes the 19th amendment by a vote of 56-25.
1920. The 19th amendment is ratified by the states on August 26, 1920. Also that year,
the Washington School for Secretaries is founded in response to the need to train workers in
rapidly evolving office technologies.
1930. The number of male secretaries dwindles as women dominate the clerical workforce
in Washington, D.C..
1935. The National Council of Negro Women is established.
1940. The American Association of University Women reports that the largest field in
which college women are employed is education followed by clerical.
1942. Once again women respond to a recruitment campaign, “It takes 25 girls behind
typewriters to put one man behind the trigger in this war” and begin arriving in droves at
Washington's Union Station to support the war effort. The National Secretaries Association
1945. Washington experiences a post-war boom in clerical jobs for women.
1952. “National Secretaries Week” is established by the National Secretaries Association.
1953. Lois Lipham becomes the first African-American secretary in the White House.
1961. President Kennedy establishes the President's Commission on the Status of Women
and appoints Eleanor Roosevelt as chairwoman.
1963. Congress passes the Equal Pay Act, making it illegal for employers to pay a woman
less than what a man would receive for the same job.
1964. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act bars discrimination in employment on the
basis of race and gender, and establishes the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(EEOC) to investigate complaints and impose penalties.
1967. Executive Order 11375 expands President Johnson's affirmative action policy of
1965 to cover discrimination based on gender.
1968. The EEOC rules that sex-segregated help wanted ads are illegal.
1970. The women's movement is in full swing with the establishment of the National
Organization for Women (NOW), publication of Ms. Magazine and mass protests
throughout the U.S. The number of secretaries in Washington, D.C. reaches a new record.
1972. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), originally drafted by suffragette Alice Paul in
1923, is passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification.
1973. A ruling is upheld by the Supreme Court, paving the way for women to apply for
higher-paying jobs previously the exclusive domain of men.
1981. IBM introduces its personal computer, which soon replaces the typewriter in the
1998. Professional Secretaries International, originally called National Association of
Secretaries, becomes the International Association of Administrative Professionals.