Marguerite Stockman Dickson.

Vocational Guidance for Girls online

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endure the confinement of the long day. She will be fortunate if she
finds a place in one of the stores in which a continuation school is
conducted. At such a school in Altman's department store in New York
the girls pursue a regular course designed to be especially helpful in
their work, and are graduated with all due formality, in which both
public-school and store officials take part. Such a school helps girls
to feel a pride in their work and to feel that they are under
observation by those who will recognize and reward real endeavor.
Filene's in Boston and Wanamaker's in New York and Philadelphia are
other notable examples of such schools.

In a government report previously quoted we find interesting figures
as to the possibility of advancement for the saleswoman. In a study of
twenty-six of the largest department stores in New York, Chicago, and
Philadelphia, employing more than 35,000 women, the workers were
classed as follows:

Per Cent
Cash girls, messengers, bundle girls, etc 13.2
Saleswomen 46.2
Buyers and assistant buyers 1.2
Office and other employees 39.4

"It will be seen," adds the report, "that the opportunity for reaching
the coveted position of buyer or assistant buyer is small."

The disadvantages and dangers of salesmanship for girls, other than
small pay and improbability of much advancement, we shall consider in
a later chapter. We may say here, however, that these disadvantages
and dangers, for the really commercially minded girl, are to a certain
extent neutralized by her nature and possibilities. She is the girl
whose mind is more or less concentrated on "the selling game." Her
nerves are less worn because of a certain exhilaration in her work.
She is the girl who passes beyond the underpaid stage and is able to
live decently and to rise to a position of some responsibility, partly
because of her concentration and partly because she has been able to
resist the influences about her which make for mediocrity or worse.

_Office work_. The girl emerging from high school and looking for work
is usually on the lookout for what in a boy we call a "white-collar
job." Especially in the case where the girl has been kept in school
at more or less sacrifice on the part of her parents, both they and
the girl feel that the extra years of schooling entitle her to a
"high-class" occupation of some kind. Girls are far less willing than
boys to "begin at the bottom" and work up through the various stages
of apprenticeship to ultimate positions near the top. They resent
being asked to take the "overall" job and fear mightily to soil their

[Illustration: Office girls at work. The successful office worker
must be neat and accurate and have a temperament in which pleasure in
arrangement takes precedence over joy in production]

Twenty-five years ago a large proportion of high-school graduates went
at once into the teaching force, where they succeeded (or not) in
"learning to do by doing," without professional training of any sort.
Now, however, teaching as a profession is in many places fortunately
reserved for the girls who prepare in college or normal school; and a
larger proportion of girls who cannot have this professional training
are looking for other occupations. Office work attracts a large
number, and, with present-day business courses in high schools, many
girls find employment as stenographers, typists, cashiers in small
establishments, bookkeepers, or general office assistants. In any of
these positions girls without special training or experience must
begin at very low wages. Whether they rise to higher ones depends to
some extent at least upon the girls themselves.

What sort of girl shall we encourage to enter office work? Not the
girl whose talent lies in making things, for to her the routine of the
office will be a weary and endless treadmill entirely barren of
results; nor the girl who requires the stimulus of people to keep her
alert and keyed to her best work; nor the girl who cannot be happy at
indoor work. Office work seems to require a temperament in which
pleasure in arrangement takes precedence over joy in production; in
which neatness, accuracy, and precision afford satisfaction even in
monotonous tasks. Coupled with these a mathematical bent gives us the
cashier or accountant or bookkeeper; mental alertness and manual
dexterity, the stenographer; a talent for organization, the secretary.

Girls who enter upon office work directly from high school must be
content with rudimentary tasks and must beware lest they remain at a
low level in the office force. Girls with more training may begin
somewhat farther up, the best positions usually going to those whose
general education and equipment are greatest. Stenographers are more
valuable in proportion as their knowledge of spelling, sentence
formation, and letter writing is reinforced by a feeling for good
English and an ability to relieve their superiors of details in
outlining correspondence. It is not enough that bookkeepers know one
or several systems of keeping business records, or that cashiers
manipulate figures rapidly and well. More important than these
fundamental requirements is the determination to grasp the details of
the business as conducted in the office in which they find themselves
and to adapt their work to the needs of the person whose work they do.
General knowledge and the ability to think not only supplement, but
easily become more valuable than, technical training.

[Illustration: Photograph by Brown Bros.
The successful secretary must have a talent for organization]

A careful study of local conditions as they affect office positions
will enable girls and their guides to have a better conception of
requirements and rewards in this field. A valuable study of conditions
among office girls in Cleveland has recently been published which
sheds considerable light on the ultimate industrial fate of the
overyoung and poorly trained office worker. A more general study is
found in the volume on _Women in Office Service_ issued by the Women's
Educational Union of Boston.


The third, or service, group of workingwomen covers without doubt the
widest range of all. Here we find the domestic helper (or servant, as
she has usually been called), the telephone operator, the librarian,
the teacher, the nurse, the physician, the lawyer, the social worker,
the clergyman or minister. All degrees of training are represented,
and many varieties of work, from the simplest to the most complex.

Strictly speaking, service has to do with personal attendance and
help, but it is constantly overlapping other lines of work. The
household assistant is not only a helper, but at times a producer; the
telephone operator and the librarian are distributors as well as
public helpers; the secretary is an office worker, although she is a
personal assistant to her employer as well. For successful work in any
of these lines, however, a girl must possess certain definite
characteristics, to which her peculiar talent or tendency may give the
determining direction as she chooses her work.

In service of any sort the girl is brought into constant relation with
people. Hence she must be the sort of girl to whom people and not
things are the chief interest of life. She should have an agreeable
personality, that she may give pleasure with her service; she needs
tact, that she may keep the atmosphere about her unruffled; she needs
to find pleasure for herself in service, seeing always the end rather
than merely the often wearisome details of work. Beyond these general
qualities we must begin at once to make subdivisions, since the
additional traits necessary to make a girl successful in one line of
service differ often widely from those required in any other line. We
must therefore take up some of the lines of work in more or less

_Domestic work_. The untrained girl who naturally falls into the
service group has a rather poor outlook for congenial and successful
work as conditions exist. With ability which she perhaps does not
possess, and with training which she cannot afford, she would
naturally become a teacher, a nurse, a private secretary, a librarian,
or a social worker. Without training, she finds little except domestic
service open to her; and domestic service finds little favor with
girls, or with students of vocational possibilities for girls.

These are unfortunate facts. For the untrained girl of merely average
abilities, with no pronounced talent or inclination, but with an
interest in persons and a pleasure in doing things for people, helping
in the tasks of homemaking ought to prove suitable work. It is,
however, the one vocation for the untrained girl which requires her to
live in the home of her employer, thus curtailing her independence,
rendering her hours of work long and uncertain, and cutting off the
natural social environment possible if she returned to her own home at
the end of the day's work. The social position of girls in domestic
service, especially in the towns and cities, is peculiarly hard for a
self-respecting girl to bear. It is in large part a reflection upon
her sacrifice of independence. The derisive slang term "slavey"
expresses the generally prevalent public contempt. It is small wonder
that a girl fears to brave such a sentiment and as a result avoids
what is perhaps in itself congenial work in pleasanter surroundings
than most noisy, ill-smelling factories.

Almost all the conditions surrounding the domestic worker are such
that it is practically impossible to say except of each place
considered by itself whether or not it is a suitable and desirable
place for a girl, or whether work and wages are fair. Practically no
progress has been made in standardizing household work. The factory
girl knows what she is to do and when she is to do it and how long her
day is to be. The housework girl seldom knows any of these things with
any degree of certainty. Any plan which will make it possible to
regulate these matters according to some recognized standard, and
which will enable domestic workers to live at home, going to and from
their work at regular hours as shop, factory, and office employees do,
will help very materially to solve the problem of opening another
desirable vocation to the untrained girl.

The untrained girl who is willing to accept a difficult and trying
position in a private kitchen with the idea of making her work serve
her as a training school for better work in the future may make a
success of her life after all. Such a girl will have good observing
powers and ability to follow directions and gauge the success of
results. She will have adaptability, patience, and a very definite
ambition. For domestic service may be a stepping stone.

For the high-school girl a better opening may sometimes be found as a
mother's helper. Many women who find the ordinary household helper
unsatisfactory give employment to girls of refinement and high-school
training who are capable of assisting either with household tasks or
with the care of children. Girls in such positions are usually made
"one of the family," and are sometimes very happily situated. Their
earnings are often more than those of other girls of their
intelligence and training who are in offices or stores; but there is
of course little chance of advancement, and there is still the
prejudice against domestic work to be reckoned with. Here, as with
household assistants, the greatest drawback is probably lack of
standardization of work and of working conditions.

The girl who wishes to become a "mother's helper" must have a natural
refinement and some knowledge of social usage if she is to be a sharer
in the family life of her employer. She must use excellent English,
must know how to dress quietly and suitably, and must not only _know
how_ to keep herself in the background of family life, but must be
_willing_ to remain somewhat in the shadows.

Probably no better field for the investigation of these trying
questions could be found than the high school. The ranks of employers
of domestic help are being constantly recruited from the girls who
were the high-school students of yesterday and have now taken their
places as housekeepers. The high school then, where the problem may be
approached in an impersonal manner quite impossible later when the
question has become a personal one, is the proper place in which to
study the domestic service question and to attempt its standardization.

The higher positions involving domestic work are more in the nature of
supervisory employment. Many women are employed as matrons in
hospitals, boarding schools, and other institutions, as housekeepers
in hotels, club buildings, or in large private establishments. These
positions of course call for women who are not only thoroughly
familiar with the work to be done, but are skilled in managing their
subordinates who do the actual work. They require women who have
administrative ability, knowledge of keeping accounts, proper
standards of living and of service, and initiative.

For the woman who has a desire to enter business for herself there are
openings in the line of domestic work. From time immemorial women have
managed lodging and boarding houses, sometimes with good returns. They
are also the owners and managers of tea rooms, restaurants, laundries,
dyeing and cleaning establishments, hairdressing and manicure shops,
and day nurseries. All these occupations can be followed successfully
only by the woman of business ability and some technical knowledge.
They require not only knowledge but aptitude on the part of the
worker. They are usually undertaken only by women of some experience,
and are the result of some earlier choice rather than the choice of
the vocation-seeking girl.

[Illustration: The true teacher represents a high type of social

_Teaching_. The teacher differs from the person who has merely an
interest in human kind in the abstract, because she has a special
interest in one particular class of human beings - those who are most
distinctly in the process of making. She is interested in children, or
she should not be teaching. This, however, is not enough. The girl who
wishes to teach must possess certain well-defined characteristics. Her
health must be good, and her nerve force stable. Temperamentally she
must be enthusiastic and optimistic, but capable of sustained effort
even in the face of apparent failure. Her outlook must be broad, and
her patience unfailing. Intellectually she must be a student, and if
she possess considerable initiative and originality in her study, so
much the better. She must not, however, become a student of
mathematics or history or languages to the exclusion of the more
absorbing study of her pupils, nor even to so great a degree as she
studies them. The true teacher represents a high type of social
worker. Many girls enter upon the work of teaching badly handicapped
by the lack of some of these essential qualities and are in
consequence never able to rise to real understanding and
accomplishment of their work.

Teaching in these days is a broad vocation, covering many different
lines of work; probably no occupation for girls is so well known with
both its conditions and rewards as this. In general, more girls than
are by nature fitted for the work stand ready to undertake it. There
is nevertheless difficulty for school officials in finding real
teachers enough to fill their positions. For the right girl, teaching
has much to offer.

_Library work_. The librarian in these modern days is a most important
public servant, and many openings in library work are to be found. The
services to be performed range from purely routine work to a very high
type of constructive service for the community. In the small libraries
an "all-round" type of worker is required. In the larger ones
specialties may be followed. In these larger libraries there are to be
found permanent places for the routine workers. In smaller ones each
worker should be in line for even the highest type of constructive

The routine worker in the library is merely an office worker, and the
same girl who would do well at the mechanical tasks of an office will
do well here. The real librarian is of a different sort. She must have
the neatness, precision, and accuracy of the office worker, to be
sure; but to these she must add a broad conception of the place of the
library in the community, and must display initiative and originality
in bringing it to occupy that place. She must know books; she must
know people. She must be in touch with current history, and be alert
to place library material bearing upon it at the disposal of the
people. She must have quick sympathies, tact, the teaching spirit
(carefully concealed), and much administrative ability. And she must
be trained for her work.

[Illustration: Photograph by Brown Bros.
A well-equipped library. The successful librarian must be
scientifically trained for her work]

_Nursing_. The nurse is in many ways like the teacher, and the girl
who has the right temperament for successful teaching will usually
make a successful nurse, temperamentally considered. Her mental
traits, or perhaps more exactly her habits of thought, may be somewhat
different. The teacher must be able to attend to many things; the
nurse must be able to concentrate on one. Originality and initiative
are less to be desired, since the nurse is not usually in charge of
her case directly, but rather subject to the doctor's orders. She
must, nevertheless, be resourceful in emergencies, and of good
judgment always. She should be calm as well as patient, quiet in
speech and movement, a keen observer, and willing to accept
responsibility. Absolute obedience and loyalty to her superiors is
expected, and a high conception of the ethics of her calling.
Underlying all these qualifications, the nurse must have not only good
health but physical strength.

[Illustration: Copyright by Keystone View Co.
During the World War nursing offered to women perhaps the largest
opportunities for service. Here is shown Princess Mary of England in
the Great Ormond Street Hospital, London]

_Social work_. This term covers many occupations which overlap the
work of the teacher, the nurse, the secretary, the house mother or
matron, and even that of the physician and lawyer. The field of work
is a large one, including settlement leaders and assistants, workers
in social and community centers and recreation centers, vacation
playgrounds, public and private charities, district nurses and
visiting nurses sent out by various agencies, deaconesses and other
church visitors, Young Women's Christian Association leaders and
helpers, missionaries, welfare workers in large manufacturing or
mercantile establishments, probation officers, and many others.

[Illustration: Photograph by Brown Bros.
Settlement work at Greenwich House, New York. The settlement worker
to succeed must be truly altruistic]

The social worker must of course have the same suitability for
teaching or nursing or any other of the various tasks that she may
undertake as has the teacher or nurse or other person who works under
different auspices. She must have in addition a truly altruistic
spirit, a deep earnestness which will survive discouragement, and a
real insight into the circumstances, handicaps, and possibilities of
others. This insight presupposes maturity of thought; and the young
girl must serve a long apprenticeship with life before she is at her
best as a social worker. It sometimes seems as though no field was so
exactly suited to the abilities of the married woman who has time for
service, or the mother whose children are grown, leaving her free
again to teach or nurse the sick or bring justice to the little child
as she was trained to do in her youth.

Less common vocations for women - but still often chosen after all - are
reserved for those whose abilities are so specialized and so striking
that they compel a choice. Singers, artists with brush or pen, the
natural actress, the journalist or author, need usually no one to
guide their choice. Our great difficulty here is not to open the
girl's eyes to her opportunity, but to restrain the one who has not
measured her ability correctly from attempting that which she cannot
perform. The same is true of girls who aspire to be physicians,
lawyers, or ministers. Some few succeed in all these vocations. Many
more have not the scientific habits of mind, the stability, or the
endurance to make a successful fight for recognition against great

Many girls mistake what may be a pleasant and satisfying avocation for
a life work. For the girl who will not be held back, there may be a
life of achievement ahead, with fame and all the other accompaniments
of successful public life; or there may be the disappointments of
unrealized ambition. We must see that girls face this possibility with
the other.



Choice of vocation is far from being a simple matter for either boy or
girl; but for the girl who recognizes homemaking as woman's work,
double possibilities complicate her problem more than that of the boy.
_The girl must prepare for life work in the home, or life work outside
the home, or a period of either followed by the other, or perhaps a
combination of both during some part or even all of her mature life_.

It is the part of wisdom for us to study vocations in their relation
to homemaking. Will the girl who works in the factory, for instance,
or who becomes a teacher or a lawyer or a physician, be as good a
homemaker as she would have been had she chosen some other occupation?
Will she perhaps be a better homemaker for her vocational experience?
Or will her life in the industrial world unfit her for life in the
home or turn her inclination away from the homemaker's work?

These questions have somehow fallen into the background in the steady
increase of girls as industrial workers. "Good money" has usually come
first, and after that other considerations of social advantage,
working conditions, or local demand. Marriage and motherhood are still
recognized as normal conditions for most women, but we let their
industrial life step in between their homemaking preparation in home
and school, with the result that many lose physical fitness or mental
aptitude or inclination for the home life. We treat marriage as an
incident, even though it occurs often enough to be for most women the
rule rather than the exception. At some time in their lives, 93.8 per
cent of all women marry.

The first broad classification of vocations in their relation to
homemaking is: (1) those which are favorable to homemaking, (2) those
which are unfavorable, (3) those which are neutral.

It must, however, be recognized at the outset that few hard-and-fast
lines between these groups can be drawn, and that "the personal
equation" is as important a factor here as in most personal questions.
It is true, nevertheless, that helpful deductions may be drawn from
facts which it is possible to gather concerning the physical, mental,
and moral results of pursuing certain occupations as a prelude to
marriage and the making of a home.

In a general way, economic independence, that is, the earning of her
own living by a girl for several years before marriage, tends to
increase her knowledge of the value of money and to make her a better
financial manager. Probably this same independence makes a girl
slightly less anxious to marry, especially since in most cases she has
hitherto been expected to give up her personal income in exchange for
an extremely uncertain system of sharing what the husband earns.
Independence of any sort is reluctantly laid aside by those who have
possessed it. This very reluctance on the part of girls ought to be a
force in the direction of economic independence of wives, a most
desirable and necessary condition for society to bring about. Gainful
occupation has then much to recommend it and little to be said against
it as part of the training for matrimony.

Certain occupations, however, are so essentially favorable to the
girl's homemaking ability and to her probable inclination to make a
home of her own that we do not hesitate to recommend them as the best
directions for girls' vocational work to take, _other things being

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Online LibraryMarguerite Stockman DicksonVocational Guidance for Girls → online text (page 11 of 14)