Close-up of one of the new Indispensable Women of Big Business. Name: Gladys Marsh

McKENZIE PORTER October 15 1948


Close-up of one of the new Indispensable Women of Big Business. Name: Gladys Marsh

McKENZIE PORTER October 15 1948


Close-up of one of the new Indispensable Women of Big Business. Name: Gladys Marsh


BETWEEN eight-thirty and nine o’clock every morning of the working week in Canada’s major cities a million painted fingernails begin to flash over typewriter keys. Except for the walls insulating the sound of one battery from another a crackling like that of Vickers guns during a 10-division attack would drown all other urban noises and drive everybody mad.

Of the 100,000 girls responsible for this caco-

phony it is estimated that 50,000, well practiced in the five-finger exercises of “Ipoiu” and “asdfgf,” operate mechanically as if integrated with the machine, and reserve their minds for dreams of the day when a magic ring will pass them from the toils of Mammon to the courts of Venus.

Another 49,000, striking the shift key with the little finger and the space bar with the thumb, are dutiful rather than indifferent in their approach to the machine for many of them have found that a magic ring has brought no release from the economic struggle and others have realized that men are looking elsewhere for wives.

There remain perhaps a thousand women who through genuine interest in the complexities o commerce, a taste for competition with men am exceptional administrative ability, have trans cended the machine. Though they could type “th; quick brown fox jumps over the hedge” with thei eyes closed they have left such modest arts fa behind them. They have become “a power in th; office,” the Indispensable Woman of Big Business

United States clerical staffs have coined a tern for this streamlined female phenomenon who re ceives more pay than most men and is as remoti from the original stenographer in bustle, hair bui and pince-nez as a comptometer is from a quill pen

They call them executaries.

One of these is to be found in the downtowi Toronto offices of E. P. Taylor, the Canadiai financier. Her name is Miss Gladys Marsh.

When you ask for Miss Marsh at No. 15 Kinj Street West, the elevator man treats you like ; distinguished person. Other Taylor employee; speak of her with some awe.

If you took Miss Marsh out to lunch you woulc see all the big shots down King and Bay Street; raising their hats to her and you would feel ii duty bound, for the sake of her reputation, to try t; look like the man who sold Anaconda Copper short

She can count the pulse of a dozen big companie; and give level-headed criticism of their doings What E. P. Taylor says about her must remain i mystery because, if you tried to get in to ask him Miss Marsh would probably press a button anc drop you down a secret mantrap.

As the elevator man stops at the eighth floo: he coughs discreetly tor, instead of opening onto the usual corridor, the doors give access to the core o the Taylor organization.

Miss Marsh’s desk commands an elongated bu spacious room with cream paneled walls and greei flooring. In the shiny distance is a water coole: and a row of white filing cabinets. Down one sid; of the room runs a series of private sanctums anc consulting chambers.

You are vaguely aware of flowers. The atmos phere has the hush and serenity of a country church Occasionally the switchboard operator coos into he: mouthpiece and dallies with her plugs. Sometime; a man emerges from an inner office, crosses tc Miss Marsh, murmurs something in her ear anc glides back again into the hinterland.

The typewriters are noiseless. The telephone bells are muted. No voices are raised in vulga: query or authority. Business proceeds silkily anc deftly. The air is heavy with the hint of cheques drafts, promissory notes, debentures and ducats

Waiting on the deep leather chesterfield yoi wonder whether it might be advisable to steal awa} and not bother Miss Marsh in case the interruptior of her routine suddenly beggars a millionaire anc starts a landslide on Bay Street.

But then Miss Marsh breaks surface from he: documents and comes round the barrier. Her wall is a short quick step, a determined little stomping If anything is remarkable about her appearance it is an over-all impression of crisp efficiency.

There are grey shadings in her well-groomed hair Her fragile, oval face is tanned nut-brown and he: only make-up is brilliant lipstick along the tighth drawn but wide intelligent mouth. Her eyes seen often partly closed behind their spectacles, bu in what can be seen of them there are dancing light of fun and intense shrewdness.

Quality Clue

SHE MIGHT be any age between 30 anc 40 and is, in fact, 34. It is when she begins tc speak that she reveals qualities which have carriec her up among the career women who earn arounc $4,000 a year. Her voice is well-modulated, thi words carefully chosen and uttered with ease anc composure so that attention is at once riveted oi what she is saying.

She lights a cigarette with long fingers that an pink-tipped and expressive and, perhaps because these are one of her finer points physically, sh; occasionally emphasizes her meaning by half rais ing the hand and

Continued on page 57

She's An Executory

Continued from page 8

fluttering them delicately. Gladys Marsh is apt to go into reveries about the markets and explain to you how some stocks reflect the slightest change in the mood of mankind from Omsk to Buk-kuk and from Oswaldtwistle to Medicine Hat. She is especially impressive when she lowers her voice and says, “Did you see how many points steel fell today?”

Her “bosses” are W. E. Phillips, John A. McDougald and Wallace McCutcheon of Taylor, McDougald and Co. Ltd., and the Argus Corporation. These three constitute what E. P. Taylor calls the “brain trust” of his holding companies, which control corporations with assets of more than $100 millions. Miss Marsh is engaged in confidential work connected with firms like Canadian Breweries, Standard Chemicals, Canadian Food Products, Orange Crush, Massey-Harris, Acadia Sugar, Dominion Stores, McColl Frontenac and several others whose operations affect the daily lives of Canadians everywhere.

E. P. Taylor and his many lieutenants have their own private secretaries. Miss Marsh is not one of these. She is the co-ordinator of the work of eight such secretaries. Her service is to the financial orbit as a whole, rather than to the specialized requirements of any one man in it. She supervises the entire office; is responsible for method in correspondence; system in filing; staff matters and discipline; purchase of office supplies and stationery; maintenance of office equipment; and general routine.

She protects the executives from entanglement with minor details or unimportant visitors. Occasionally she still types, but only the most intimate reports and records for the enigmatic files in her charge. About her work she is sphinxlike. One of her jobs, however, is to keep in touch by telephone with the rises and falls on the stock market and bring any undulations of importance to the notice of an appropriate superior.

In the mornings she begins between nine and nine-thirty and finishes in the evenings any time after five o’clock. Occasionally she takes a social luncheon lasting two or three hours with friends, but generally she nips out for a salad and a glass of milk and is back at her desk within an hour.

Years ago Miss Marsh outgrew the time clock. She works when there is work to be done and leaves when she is through. She is the hub on which the administrative machine turns in Taylor, McDougald and the funnel through which passes much of the firm’s intelligence.

Work and Play

Gladys Marsh was born in Toronto in 1914.

Her father had come to Canada as a young man from Bolton, Lancashire, England, which is the wealthiest cotton-spinning town in the world, even today. One road running out of Bolton is built up either side for 10 miles with 30and 40-room mansions standing eave to eave, the homesteads of the hardheaded, hard-driving authors of England’s industrial might. Her mother came to Canada also before the 1914 War from the lush cider apple orchards of Devon, where never a factory is seen and whose people stem from the same mystic Celtic race as the Welsh and peasants of Brittany.

There is much of both these stocks in Miss Marsh, for while she is a disciple of work for work’s sake she is

a lover of open spaces and quaint homes and with an embroidery needle she is an artist.

Today she still lives with her parents, an only child, in a pretty house overlooking the Don Valley, a wooded ravine running down through Toronto’s east side to Lake Ontario. Her father is a Provincial Government official. She remembers seeing him for the first time when her mother took her to England just after the first World War. Her father was lying there in hospital recovering from wounds received in the Salonika campaign.

When the family returned to Canada from England, Miss Marsh was sent to the Normal Model School in Toronto.

Looking back she thinks she had a strict upbringing and without reproach to her parents fancies they were afraid of spoiling her. They impressed upon her the importance of study and were always anxious about her school reports for they planned to send her on to university. She did a lot more homework than most girls because she had no brothers or sisters to distract her attention. The consequence was that as soon as an examination loomed up she was sent home with a temperature.

“I used to get into a tizzy,” she says. “I could never face an examination. Going to university was then out of the question.”

Miss Marsh could have stayed at home demurely waiting for a husband to come along, but she felt she must justify herself in the eyes of her disappointed parents and enrolled as a student at Shaw’s Business College, Toronto.

From 1930 until 1937 she worked as a stenographer for the Minimum Wages Board of the Ontario Provincial Government, starting at $60 a month. Her duties were to take notes of public enquiries under the Industrial Standards Act and handle adjustments of infractions of the minimum - wage regulations.

It was arduous, tedious work, calling for speed and accuracy. It made a magnificent human printing press of her but laid a damp blanket over her imagination. In the evenings she took an advanced stenography course at the Eastern High School of Commerce and this opened her eyes to the activities of private enterprise, which by comparison with her own government work seemed adventurous and exhilarating.

Too Much Security

She became aware in her own quick way that much of the bureaucratic dictation she rippled into Pitman’s shorthand was voluminous and pompous. She found she could have condensed some of the work to a quarter of its length without losing any of its meaning.

Miss Marsh tired of the monotony and “soul-destroying security” of Government employ. “Why, you can only be fired if you get flung into jail,” she says. “Even if somebody were found drunk on the job they’d find some way of covering it up.” She hankered for work in an outfit that would rise? or fall by its own efforts. She was charged wit h self-esteem and confidence in her capacity and needed some place where she would be appreciated. So she resigned from Queen’s Park. “It was the best thing I ever did,” she says.

The “happiest days” of her life followed. Miss Marsh reported to Miss Mary MacMahon, chief of the Underwood Typewriter Company’s placement service, and took temporary assignments. One day she would be working in a shack on a construction job and the next taking letters in a

luxury suite. She handled every known make and vintage of typewriter, including a Czech machine which wrote “twirp” every time she tried to type “reply.” She was making five and six dollars a day though transportation costs ate holes into her earnings.

Miss Marsh found the other girls on temporary assignments better company and more stimulating than any she had met before. They were spirited privateers reveling in the independence and change the work afforded. It was good if she had been doing particularly well to take a day off on ?» Thursday or

?» Tuesday just for the fun of it.

One girl Miss Marsh remembers took a job in the east end at which ?»!l the girls turned their noses up because the office was ramshackle ?»nd smoky. Today that girl is the secretary-treasurer to a thriving company which grew out of those humble quarters. Recently she received ?» $5,000 bonus and a month’s trip to Florida. She has been promised ?» comfortable annuity if she w ill st?»y until ?» retiring age.

The temporary work brought Miss Marsh in contact with some queer chîiraeters. One man she remembers

flew into a rage if the perforated remnant of his calendar scribbling pad w?»s left under the metal clasp. Another could never make up his mind whether he wanted “Mr.” or “Esq.” in his addresses. Frequently he changed his mind after the letters had been finished and Miss M?»rsh would be delayed hours—retyping the correspondence. Several men, of course, made passes at her. But she never failed to handle this situation. “I just froze them!” Soon she was able to generalize and say that the most successful men make the best bosses. Miss Marsh accepted

bantering and familiarity from a boss in good humor, but never returned it fully because she discovered that men like to retain the advantage in these passages of wit and are apt to get sulky if bested.

In 1938 she took a regular position as stenographer to the manager of Woods Manufacturing Company Ltd., of Toronto, m?»kers of burl:»p flour and s?»lt b?»gs. Her salary was “well it» excess” of average. She enjoyed the work there and assumed more ?»nd more responsibilities. But the district depressed her. “I could not bear to look out of the window and watch the underprivileged children trying to see the sun,” she says. “It really wore me down. I’m sensitive about such things.”

When in 1941 she got the chance of a i» importîint job with the Wartime Prices and Trade Board in Toronto she swallowed ?ill she h?»d said about bureaucracy and took it. She was in chîirge of 30 women engaged in secretarial duties. It was here she met the man who was responsible for her transfer to E. P. Taylor in 1946. He was Wallace McGutcheon, then Deputy Chairman of the Wartime Prices and Trade Board to Donald Gordon.

McGutcheon, says Miss Marsh, is the stenographer’s dream boss.

“He is ?» clear thinker. Before he calls you in he knows exactly what he is going to say in his letter or report. He has splendid diction, an easy flow of words and never hesitates or deletes. Furthermore, he adopts just the right manner to a secretary. He is friendly without being familiar and gets his way without ranting or fuss.”

Miss Marsh says many bosses feel they ?»re m?»king themselves popular with stenographers by being chummy. The good stenographer, she says, considers this type a fool. He merely lowers his own prestige and embarrasses the girl.

For stenographers, too, she has advice.

“Dress is most important,” she says. “I don’t think a girl should come to the office looking like something out of the gloomy ’90’s, but if she comes in frocks more suited to a cabaret act she is heading for trouble. If a girl wears a cocktail party dress at the office she will ultimately be taken to a cocktail p?»rty. But business and social life don’t mix. There are some pretty vigilant wives {»round and the girl generally comes off worst.”

Curiosity Pays Off

Miss Marsh says she owes her position to an inquisitive nature.

No stenographer will hit big money, Miss M?»rsh s?»ys, unless she is curious about the business she serves and the mechanics which m?»ke it efficient.

“Lots of stenographers,” she says, “boast that they cannot work a switchboard. They consider switchboard work is menial. I was never asked to work a switchboard in my life but I le?»rned how. The things fascinate me. 1 always tried to learn a little about every machine, even comptometers, because you never know when you might be asked if you can work one in an emergency. If you can do something which is not expected of you, you surprise the boss and impress him. That counts ?» lot the next time he is thinking of promoting somebody. It’s like driving a car. You should know a little bit about all the works.”

She thinks all girls starting in business should continue study at night school, especially those who live alone in furnished rooms and lack comp?»ny in the evenings.

She does not believe that married girls should continue working unless

sickness or some outstanding family misfortune renders the husband useless as a breadwinner. “Married girls never know when to stop working,” she says. “The husband gets so used to their earnings that all financial plans are made on the assumption they will continue. This often saps the husband’s initiative.”

Most nights during the summer Miss Marsh walks down to Fleet Street flats where, economically, she parks her 1941 Chevrolet coupé, which she has had since new, for three dollars a month. “I used to park it by the King Edward when they charged 25 cents a day. Rut when they put it up to 50 cents I said ‘This is ridiculous and must cease forthwith.’ ”

She drives out to the Ladies’ Golf and Tennis Club at Thornhill. Recently she began to change over from tennis to golf because “there comes a time in a girl’s life when she wants to keep her figure without spending so much energy on it.” Miss Marsh took her golf lessons from Bill Kerr, now the pro at Beaconsfield, Montreal. She handicapped at 24 this year.

The Ladies’ Golf and Tennis Club might sound like a petticoat preserve but Miss Marsh says, with a wicked glint, that “men are welcomed with open arms!”

Each member may issue a number of permanent guest cards to her men friends. But these are subject to review every year. Thus, the member can exclude anybody she chooses to drop.

Miss Marsh has several men friends, but she doesn’t say very much about them. She did admit, however, that she threw one over because he didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t swear and didn’t waste money. “Every man has to have his vice,” she said. “I began to wonder what the heck his was!”

Bridge Bug

She likes a drink herself, particularly a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned. But she never has more than one before lunch. It makes her sleepy in the afternoons. She eats little meat but adores salads. Miss Marsh also goes easy on desserts. Her waist is fine and hips shapely and that’s how she wants to keep them.

During the winters she plays bridge. She belongs to two clubs. Often her

parents’ home is full of her bridge guests. All sorts of people get involved in these long, progressive games and sometimes total strangers arrive at the house.

Before the exchange restrictions she used to go to New York twice a year on shopping trips. The other week her office needed somebody to go to New York with some documents and she gathered the journey had fallen into her lap.

“Then one of the men remembered he had to go anyway. Now wasn’t that a coincidence! Some day I’m going to get a trip on an expense sheet though. Mark my words.”

Most of her vacations she spends motoring in the States. This year she went to Lake Placid in the Adirondacks. “Just managed to last out one week on my allotment of dollars and then had to come back to Quebec for a week.”

She admits with some shame she does little reading these days. What with bridge, golf and embroideity she has time only for magazines. But she sees all the good plays which come to Toronto. She’s not keen on the movies but occasionally she likes the best English pictures. “They are more authentic and true to life. Hollywood characters are too glossy for me.”

Things English seem to fascinate her. She speaks of a man friend who “has a beautiful English voice.” Twice she crossed the Atlantic as a little girl. Her plan is to go again soon and really see all the plays in London. While she’s over she’ll take a trip to Paris and to Rome.

“Once when I saw the Rockies,” she said, “I suddenly realized I had no worries. You have only to look at the Rockies and think of their agelessness and your worries all slip away. I’m sure I should get the same feeling in Rome if I saw the Coliseum or St. Peters.”

Beneath the slick unruffled surface of Miss Gladys Marsh’s materialism there runs a powerful undertow of sentiment and mortal weal. One of these days she may tire of sticks and stones and stocks and shares. Then the faithful typewriter, seeing that it has lost her heart, may tap out sadly of its own volition that old commercialcollege exercise which runs: “Now is

the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party.” ★