Stenographer Coops

Stenographer at a typewriter
The woman in this photo worked in another office, but this scene from 1920 looks very similar to what you’d find at Olmsted Brothers.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Theodor Horydczak Collection, LC-H824-T-2986-001-x


As the Olmsteds balanced hundreds of projects in the 1920s, they had to stay in constant communication with their clients and off-site employees. Stenographers, secretaries, typists, and telephone operators all helped the firm stay up-to-date. If the partners wanted to write a letter, they often dictated to a stenographer who worked in these cubicle-like areas referred to as coops. Olmsted Brothers also bought a machine called the ediphone to help them. The ediphone was an early recording device that someone could record on and later re-play.

A majority of typists and stenographers in American offices were younger women, and this was most likely the case with the Olmsteds as well. At the time, many people assumed that younger women would not stay employed for very long as they would be biding time until they got married.

Lamp, typewriter, and fan on wooden desk and wooden chair
A typical desk set-up in the Olmsted office.


By the 1920s, more women had schooling in secretarial work, whether a vocational school, business college, or elsewhere. Stenographers were trained in shorthand and typing. The value of more advanced education seems to reflect in the position and wages of the workers. Most of the more recent hires began at around $85 per month. However, Esther Ziselman, who joined the office in 1925, had a starting salary of $130/month. She was a recent graduate of Simmons College, having majored in secretarial studies. Esther only stayed with the Olmsteds for a year. Women did not only leave their jobs due to marriage, but also sought out other better paying opportunities. With her education, Esther probably made a strong candidate when she applied to any firm in need of a professionally trained secretary.

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Last updated: January 13, 2016

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