In last week’s column, “School days, school days..,” I mentioned that I was a Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School graduate. Upon review and before submitting the column, I reflected on that important life choice/experience.  

Undecided about what to do after graduation, I attended several Career Days in an effort to make up my mind. One such day featured a representative from Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School in New York City who invited us to attend an upcoming orientation.  

My mom and I took the train into the city and arrived at Gibbs excited, feeling the electricity of Manhattan. In those days Katharine Gibbs was an all-female school—not anymore—and considered the Cadillac of secretarial schools. At the end of that day after listening to professors, teachers and administrators, I knew this was the school for me; I enrolled in the two-year liberal arts program.

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What a culture shock! From day one, we were required to be professional in our appearance.  We wore hats and gloves and conservative business attire. Don’t forget, panty hose hadn’t come along yet so we wore stockings. Not only that, we had to carry an extra pair in case we got a “run.”  No Gibbs girl had a run in her stockings!  The homework was overwhelming; the commute home found me and some other Katie Gibbs girls doing homework, comparing notes and anxiously waiting to get home, have dinner and hit the books again.

We were on budgets and had to spend wisely when it came to lunch.  Enter the  nearby Horn and Hardart Automat—do you remember the Automat?

 Not only were the prices reasonable, but the food was good. We’d come in en masse and grab a couple of tables.  After a while, most of the “regular” patrons and Automat staff knew we were Katie Gibbs girls and would greet us, asking how we ladies were doing, etc. It was a nice, warm atmosphere in this Big City.

My Katharine Gibbs education served me well. Upon graduation I worked in advertising in Manhattan for a few years and then began what would ultimately be a 27-year career with IBM, including a few “breaks.”   

While raising four sons and going through a divorce, I made the decision to work from home. I answered an ad in the local paper: A Columbia University professor was searching for an assistant to work at home typing his correspondence, articles, position papers, etc.  How perfect for me! I could set my own hours, would be home when my older boy got out of school and most importantly, when the boys were sick. A week later, the professor called me, we spoke at length and at the conclusion of our “interview,” he said:  “You’re hired!”   

I was shocked and asked:  “Don’t you want to meet me in person before you make a decision?”  

He laughed and said: “I don’t care if you have two heads, you are a Katharine Gibbs graduate and that’s good enough for me.”  Dr. K and I worked together for ten years; I then returned to IBM full time.

Attending Katharine Gibbs School was one of the most pivotal life decisions I made.   It was a challenge which I accepted—many times I wanted to throw the typewriter out the window and quit.  This education and my own capability provided my work ethic—110 percent according to one employer—and opened doors for employment opportunities.