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A battle of the presses

What an image says: Observe the body language in this illustratrion in the Chicago Tribune in 1886. The man, leaning back, dictating, the woman, leaning down, copying.

Seperate and unequal

In the late 19th century, men and women swarmed the ranks of stenography, but on unequal terms. Generally, women were paid less and treated with less dignity. So while the typewriter opened the door of employment for many women, the door opened only so far. Social and economic parity was yet unrealized.

Stenography associations championed equal pay, but mainly to protect men’s income (women were viewed as a source of inexpensive labor). As female representation in those organizations rose, the inherent rights of women came to the fore: equal pay for equal work; equality for the sake of equality.

(I have been chronicling this development on my “Index of Women and the Typewriter” page here.)

War of words

Trade journals and periodicals mirrored the views of its readers, some advancing progressive ideas, others championing the established order. An exchange between the Cosmopolitan Shorthander and the Chicago Tribue in the mid-1880s reflected this tension. The editors of The Shorthander were offended by the Tribune’s characterization of female stenographer/typists as dainty objects, calling the portrayal a libelous slander.

It began with a piece in the Tribune entitled “Our Fair Typewriters.”

“Only young women of intelligence adapted for work — good looks also a recommendation,” read the headline.

“A good education is necessary, and good looks and amiability are also necessary in order to obtain or retain a good position,” wrote the Tribune. “Why? Well, I hardly know. I merely state the fact. I suppose it’s human nature for people to like pretty faces near them. A pretty girl typewriter is a spot of everlastingly bright sunshine in a dreary office.”

The Cosmopolitan Shorthander fiercely objected.

“We all know that the avenues of honorable, profitable and congenial employment for women are limited enough,” wrote the Shorthander. “Most of us know that typewriting and shorthand has opened a rich field of labor for refined and educated women, and that workers in this field must be educated and are chiefly refined and honorable. The flippant allusions to ‘pretty typewriter girls,’ ‘our fair typewriters,’ et cetera, convey the impression that good looks and not good work is the one essential to successful competition in this business. The suggestion that follows this reference not only casts a slur on thousands of respectable and brainy women who earn their living by typewriting and shorthand (the two go hand in hand), but naturally restrain a careful mother from permitting her daughter to enter so peculiar a profession.”

The articles below are lengthy but worthwhile reads on gender roles in the 19th-century workplace.

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© 2019, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.


Story of the first typewriter in the South Seas

Robert Louis Stevenson on his visit to Western Somoa (see history here).

It captivated the attention of Robert Louis Stevenson…

The Typewriter and Phonographic World (New York), January 1904 —

© 2019, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.


Eldora J. Schofield: Teacher, typist, editor

Eldora J. Schofield, from the Phonographic Magazine, June 1901.

The business of documenting business is enormous. Governments record meetings, businesses archive emails, people post videos online… The vast records of our doings grows exponentially. And technology makes this possible… effortless.

In the 1800s, documenting life was more demanding: businesses employed secretaries, stenographers, clerical aids, and typists (originally called “typewriters”). That record of the 19th century, now more widely accessible through digital archives, is vast. It tells a fascinating story.

Eldora J. Schofield was among that army of 19th-century documenters. She began as a stenographer/typist (largely the same thing by the late 1800s) and progressed as an editor for the Rhode Island Democrat. She was a “typewriter” who married her boss, John H. Scholfield, but they later divorced. Some partnership, however, seems to have continued between them.

Biographical details are sparse, but she ranks among the many female pioneers who reshaped the business of documenting business.

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© 2019, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.


The Dial Typewriter (aka the Peacock)

Known in most resources as the “Peacock” typewriter, the Dial was patented in England by E. Peacock in 1884. The machine received brief notice in the 1880s, but no known specimens or images are extant.

(A typewriter copy-holder was patented by a different Peacock in 1894 — see patent here.)

From Brown & Holland Shorthand News, October 1885 —

Micahel Alder describes the Peacock in Antique Typewriters (p. 111): “A novel British patent for a circular index machine with radial type plungers around a drum and roller inking was granted to E.E. Peacock of London in 1894.”

Peacock’s Dial should not be confused for the toy typewriter of the same name.

© 2019, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.


Speed of the typewriter (1887)

Advertisement displaying an early Remington typewriter, from the Camden Daily Courier, August 11, 1883.

What was it like to type on a Remington Standard No. 1? In practical terms, how efficient was that model? Opinions varied. A reporter from England put the machine to the test, stating, “As I have frequent inquiries addressed to me as to how many words I could write per minute and have also heard the machine spoken of somewhat disparagingly, I have put my ability to a practical test.”

The reporter found in extended diction tests that he typed faster than he could write shorthand, achieving around 45 words per minute on his “all caps” Remington. The publication concluded that the typewriter was indeed mightier faster than the pen.

His account is recorded in Browne’s Phonographic Monthly, March 1887.

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© 2019, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.