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The Training of a Secretary:
 Mechanical Helps

 Filing Room And Library

 Overlapping With Other Officers

 The Private Secretary

 The Social Secretary

 The Building And Loan Association Secretary

 For Any Secretary


 Famous Secretaries And Their Careers

 In General

 Read More Articles About: The Training of a Secretary

The Social Secretary

( Originally Published 1922 )

In " Bleak House ", Dickens describes inimitably a private and social secretary

who was also a secretary for foreign affairs.

Esther Summerson says, " But what principally struck us was a jaded, and unhealthy-looking, though by no means plain girl, at the writing-table, who sat biting the feather of her pen, and staring at us. I suppose nobody ever was in such a state of ink. And, from her tumbled hair to her pretty feet, which were disfigured with frayed and broken satin slippers trodden down at heel, she really seemed to have no article of dress upon her, from a pin upwards, that was in its proper condition or right place." This was Caddy Jellyby, secretary to Mrs. Jellyby, whose mission was "to educate the natives of Borrio-boola-Gha on the left bank of the Niger". It is a long cry from Caroline and Mrs. Jellyby to the British Secretary for Foreign Affairs. However, Mrs. Jellyby at least, took herself quite as seriously as the latter., Caddy is a good example of how not to do it.

It appears to me that if the private secretary who has to deal with one business or the business of one person, requires versatility of knowledge, there is no end to the subjects which a social secretary should be familiar with. In addition to the amenities of life which are, or ought to be a part of home education and to the accomplishments (what an old-fashioned word) which she has learned at school or ought to have learned, there should be included in her business qualifications the following:


It is important that papers and correspondence shall be kept in place, clean and filed in such a manner that they may be referred to instantly. In the schools the principles of filing are taught and there are methods of filing galore, indifferent, good and very good.

Pigeon holes and drawers in desks are an abomination. They are a constant temptation to secrete that which should be attended to at once. I will acknowledge that a secretary has a right to a drawer or two in which to place records of those matters that cannot be completed immediately, that require finishing. A good executive secretary, how-ever, is likely to have a fiat top desk with a single small drawer and almost nothing in it at the close of each day. It is his duty to build such an organization that every matter of business which .arrives is executed promptly either by a subordinate or by himself. Neatness of person, of the desk and of the office are important. They tend to clearness of thought and speed of action.


Good handwriting is now a rare accomplishment, It has become a common practice to write and answer many letters on social subjects with the typewriter. This can be done with grace by paying particular attention to the placing of the letter on the paper, by using paper of the proper quality and embossing or printing, and by the use of a dainty type, say elite. But the fact remains that many communications must' be written and answered in long-hand, such as letters of condolence, and invitations and replies to certain social functions. These the social secretary should be able to do as well as her grandmother did, so should her employer.

Even such a small matter as the folding of a letter has its proprieties. I have stood indignant in a mailing room at the end of a busy day and seen letters which were thoughtfully composed and well written, mangled beyond belief in the folding, by boys and girls, placed in envelopes which were dirtily sealed or not sealed at all, with nine stamps out of ten crooked or put on anywhere.

There is a way to fold a letter for every size and shape of paper in such a manner that the knife will not tear it in cutting the envelope and so that when withdrawn, the letter will naturally open head up and face up, just as a secretary should carry herself.


It is highly important, in fact I think necessary, for the social secretary to be proficient in stenography and typewriting, as the great bulk of correspondence is now carried on by the use of the machine, not only for clearness, but for speed and ease in making copies. General directions will be given by the employer for the answering of many letters, leaving the secretary to work out the diction herself but there are other matters which the employer must dictate in . order to express his exact meaning or because of his special knowledge of the subject in hand, such as an address or an artide for a magazine or technical journal.


So much will be said later with regard to the writing of a clear letter in English that it is not necessary here to do more than draw attention to this important mental equipment of the secretary. In the matter of detail she will know how to address The President, the ashman and all other members of society between these extremes, to answer invitations to balls, dinner dances, receptions and to handle other social functions, including lectures, musicales, the orchestra, the opera and the events which accompany them. It will be seen from this that a knowledge of music, painting and other of the fine arts may be useful and now, since the Nineteenth Amendment has been passed, politics.

There was an admirable little book published many years ago called " DON'T ", which I would like to see resurrected. brought up to date, and read. It contained, as I remember it, a number of useful hints on behavior and the niceties of social life and of speech, some quite obvious, others not so apparent, which I believe are quite important at the present moment. People need the proprieties, brought home to them in black on white. By inference, there were in " DON'T " as many " do's " as " don'ts ". Someone borrowed my copy, someone whose manners needed improvement, as he forgot to return it in spite of the fact that it contains a paragraph on the very subject of returning books.

Things have happened since " DON'T was first published. In those days it was not necessary to warn a person against asking his secretary to call an acquaintance on the telephone, then let him wait several minutes with the receiver at his ear until the caller was ready to talk. Yet this is constantly done. It is bad manners and inconsiderate.

It is the duty of a subordinate to respond instantly to a request from his superior for his presence, or for any officer of a company to so respond to his president. He is the commander whose lightest business wish is law : But among officers of equal rank or approximately equal rank, the amenities require that the person desiring face to face information from another call upon him. Don't send for him. The abuse of this propriety leads to irritation even among close friends.

It is possible that a chapter might be written on secretarial "Don'ts ". I prefer not to write it. On the one hand it might suggest habits which would not otherwise be thought of, and on the other, the impression might be created that there are persons with bad secretarial habits, which I am not prepared to admit. Such officers do not last long. There are inexorable standards in this profession as in all others.

The social secretary will open correspondence when received, and arrange it for her employer, take instructions as to answers, file letters and their replies, perhaps of the previous day, remind her when and to whom, to send gifts, post her as to engagements, pay bills, keep simple household accounts and attend to a score of other affairs depending on the necessities of the employer and her own ability to do them well. No excuse will be accepted for doing them ill.

It is desirable for her to know the names and something of the careers of men and women who have achieved prominence by virtue of intellectual power, skill in an art or science, social position or wealth, and of those who give brilliant entertainments, as well as of others who are notorious rather than illustrious; mainly gossip, no effort for most women, just natural. With this feline remark, I hasten to say from observation and experience, that there is 'nothing in a busy person's experience which gives him, or her, greater satisfaction and comfort than the help of an able, loyal, woman secretary, strong mentally, morally and physically; neat in person, quietly dressed and ready to attack any work at any time with a smile; and I have ventured to indite, in humility both as to subject and treatment, the following verses, to express at length what I mean, as nearly as I am able.


There's many a weary business man, renowned from sea to sea,

Whose burdens have been lightened by a faithful employee

Whose woman's instinct, highly trained, and quicker than his thought,

Foresees the thing that should be done, then does it as she ought.

As " Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do",

She's always seeking wisely, for an enter-prise that's new;

So glorying in her usefulness, she goes from power to power

" And like the busy little bee, improves each shining hour".

She rarely hurries, never lags, serenely goes her ways;

Appreciation is her mead, her worth beyond all praise,

And " steady as a clock " that runs, on time from sun to sun,

She " wears the laurel", well deserved, for " service simply done ".

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