An MT/ST operator
In about 1960, my first cousin once removed, Marie, left England to live in Canada. I have been trying, with little success, to find out more about her life in Canada. I have however been reminded of the life of women office workers in the 1960s and 1970s, and how it changed.
In 1962 Marie was living in Montréal and described her occupation as “I.B.M”. At that time, IBM was starting to dominate the typewriter market with its electronic typewriter, the Selectric. I remember those well. Out with carbon copies and Tippex, in with golf balls and variable font. It is interesting that for Marie the fact that she worked for IBM seemed more significant than whatever it was that she did for them.
By 1974 the office world had changed. Marie was now a “tape librarian” and her friend Joan, who had once described herself as a secretary, was now an “MT/ST operator”. The MT/ST (Magnetic Tape Selectric Typewriter) was a modification of the Selectric which included the capacity to store documents on tape or disks (extra). We have entered the world of word processing, which profoundly changed the office environment. Middle and senior managers (mostly men) had long demonstrated their status by having a secretary (usually a woman) sitting outside their office door to answer their phones, organise their appointments and do their typing. But if a document could be created, modified and stored on tape, by any one of the operators in the Word Processing Centre, did the manager really need his own secretary? That change was sometimes doggedly contested, but it would come. Marie and Joan were in at the beginning.