Exceptional Opportunities for Ambitious Young Women: Secretarial Science at Oregon State University

Rachel Lilley is the Public Services Assistant in SCARC, where she splits her time between providing front-line patron service in SCARC’s Reading Room, and assisting in the management, processing, and preservation of archival collections.


The School of Commerce – proclaims the promotional booklet The College Girl at O.A.C. – offers “training which leads to exceptional opportunities for ambitious young women.” Statistics gathered by the School bear out this claim: between 1917 and 1922, the number of women graduating from the School of Commerce had more than tripled – from 9 in 1917 to 33 in 1922 – testament to the “increasing importance of women in the business world.”

Women working on office equipment (HC0882)

Women working on office equipment (HC0882)

The four-year, curriculum was designed to “meet the needs of students who wish to prepare themselves for responsible secretarial positions or for such positions as office manager, assistants to public officials, and research assistants.” While courses preparing women for the “secretarial field” were the most popular, women could be trained for “positions in the baking world, advertising, business, and civil service work” as well. Early lower divisions course offerings included Stenography, Applied Stenography, Rational Typewriting (typing by touch), and a Reporters’ Course. By 1933, Office Procedure and Office Organization and Management had been added as requirements, and upper division courses included both a seminar in Secretarial Training, and something akin to a modern-day internship, in which students studied the “application of actual problems in college offices.”

School of Commerce class in Bexell Hall (P016)

School of Commerce class in Bexell Hall (P016)

At the height of the Second World War, Secretarial Science offerings had expanded again to include lower division courses in Typing of Army and Navy Correspondence and Forms, and Army and Navy Applied Stenography. To the upper division offerings were added Office Procedures of Army, Navy, and War Industries, Merchandising and Selling, and General Advertising. Training in Secretarial Science was seen as vital to the success of the war effort, and this was heavily emphasized in literature about the major / department.

Demonstrating new IBM machinces in OSC business office (P082)

Demonstrating new IBM machinces in OSC business office (P082)

According to the November 1941 issue of the Oregon Stater, in fact, “degree-granting departments such as education, forestry, pharmacy, science, and secretarial science have all felt the impact of the defense effort in one way or another.” In response, every effort was made to “encourage former students to return and complete their courses and to have new students start in these fields so that the future supply of technically trained men and women may be assured.”


Designed as a companion to the exhibit Women’s Words, Women’s Work: Spaces of Community, Change, Tradition, Resistance at Oregon State University, the exhibit Exceptional Opportunities for Ambitious Young Women: Secretarial Science at Oregon State University was researched, designed, and installed by Rachel Lilley, with gracious assistance from Anne Bahde and Tiah Edmunson-Morton.

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