Psst: Exhibit highlights role of secretaries in office and fashion design

  • Article by: KRISTIN TILLOTSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 17, 2010 - 2:30 PM

Goldstein Museum of Design curators Katherine Solomonson and Midori Green will give a talk, “Shaping Office Culture: Secretaries and Design From 'Miss Remington’ to 'Mad Men.’”

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Miss B. M. Knorr on the telephone at an office desk, from the Minnesota Historical Society photograph collection.

Photo: Eric Mortenson, Minnesota Historical Society

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BEHIND THE DESK -- AND ITS DESIGN

The fate of secretaries through the ages, wrote professor and human rights activist Ariel Dorfman, has been "responsibility without power." Yet receptionists, the steno pool and male executives' Girl Fridays had a real impact on the 20th-century office, helping the shapes of chairs, the size of desks and the sophistication of equipment to evolve along with their own roles. And then, of course, there were the fashions, from Gibson Girl shirtwaists to leopard-print pencil skirts. On Thursday night, Goldstein Museum of Design curators Katherine Solomonson and Midori Green will give a talk, "Shaping Office Culture: Secretaries and Design From 'Miss Remington' to 'Mad Men,'" ( 6 p.m. , 33 McNeal Hall, 1985 Buford Av., St. Paul), as part of an exhibition of archival photos and iconic objects on display through May 23. Museum director Lin Nelson-Mayson is partial to the typewriters, which include an early "blind" model made of copper and shaped like a miniature Grecian temple, a 1950s Remington with curved keys purported to prevent the chipping of polished fingernails, and a 1970s orange IBM Selectric. "These women had the lowest status in the office, yet they were the most skilled at the technology required to run it," she said. During the exhibit's run, the museum also will be collecting gently used women's office wear for Women Achieving New Directions, a nonprofit program that helps low-income women get better jobs.

KRISTIN TILLOTSON

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