THE GOVERNMENT GIRL

The hope of doing big things and meeting exciting people hundreds of girls to the civil service every year. But red tape, the frustration of routine work and Ottawa’s man shortage often bring disillusionment to

ALAN PHILLIPS January 15 1953

THE GOVERNMENT GIRL

The hope of doing big things and meeting exciting people hundreds of girls to the civil service every year. But red tape, the frustration of routine work and Ottawa’s man shortage often bring disillusionment to

ALAN PHILLIPS January 15 1953

THE GOVERNMENT GIRL

The hope of doing big things and meeting exciting people hundreds of girls to the civil service every year. But red tape, the frustration of routine work and Ottawa’s man shortage often bring disillusionment to

ALAN PHILLIPS

ONE COLD November morning in 1950 twenty-five-year-old Glee Jessee, of Calgary, a tall good-looking brunette, turned her back on her steady boy friend, her parents and her well-paid job as secretary to an oil-company executive, walked briskly into the Civil Service Commission’s Calgary office, and through the portals of the federal payroll into a brand-new life in Ottawa.

■ NE COLD November morning in 1950 r%{ twenty-five-year-old Glee Jessee, of Calgary,

1 JR a tall good-looking brunette, turned her back RggR on her steady boy friend, her parents and her well-paid job as secretary to an oil-company executive, walked briskly into the Civil Service Commission’s Calgary office, and through the portals of the federal payroll into a brand-new life in Ottawa.

As that national figure, the Government Girl, Glee is a shadowy presence, sensed but seldom seen, behind regulations and services that, touch us all. Federal officials are a helpless crew until “their girls”—Glee and about twenty thousand others— hastily sign in at 9 a.m., rejax, powder their noses, open the files, and start the typewriters, calculators, dictaphones and duplicators piling up the paper in quadruplicate.

In 1900 only sevenf.y-two women worked for the government, and they were shut up in private rooms for fear of corrupting the men (or vice versa). Today, Glee and her counterparts operate the main types of office machinery and have jacked up the entire bottom level of the civil service. In education, intelligence and character, they are head and shoulders over the kind of men their salaries used to attract and the government now has four female employees to every three male employees at Ottawa.

Glee is needed more than ever before, for the country is sufTering a shortage of trained office help. Last year, for the first time since the war, untrained girls were taken fresh from high school and paid fifteen dollars a week to learn enough to pass civil-service exams. Married women are being recruited, age limits are being ignored, pamphlets and newspaper ads reach out for girls across Canada, and still the government isn’t getting its share of the best ones.

A few months ago a group of sténos and clerks from Britain came over to work under a federalprovincial immigration scheme. A federal recruiting officer met them in Montreal and tried to entice them to Ottawa. Two accepted. The rest said, “No thanks, we’ve heard that men outnumber girls g[ght to one in Ottawa. Tins is not' true. According to the latest, census Ottawa has ninety-five thousand males, one hundred and seven thousand females; but the eight-to-one figure is widely accepted and Ottawa is described as a “bachelor’s paradise, spinster s despair. Glee had been warned about the shortage of men at the capital but felt she was in a rut at Calgary and wanted new experiences. This is what most girls are looking for when they come to Ottawa independence, a new and probably bigger city, new people, new and perhaps exciting work.

While men are scarce, they think, ‘77/ never be

In Indian Affairs, Glee takes dictation before this impressive Ottawa backdrop.

an old maid.” Like fighting men, the girls in the government ranks, at Glee’s age or younger, feel t he casualties will be the girls at the other desks, not them.

When Glee applied at the Civil Service Commission’s office in Calgary on that November day in 1950 they gave her a four-page form to fill out. Glee listed her education (senior matric and a business-college diploma) and her experience (five years as a secretary with Greyhound Bus, one year as an oil-company secretory). Then she tried a typing and shorthand exam. Her nerves failed her. She flunked her typing, a minimum of forty words a minute. She tried again, did fifty-one. Then she waited to hear from Ottawa.

There was little doubt of her getting the job. The commission, largest employer of females in Canada, has never caught up with its needs since the war and teen-agers without even a high-school commerce diploma are being sworn in as public servants.

Before the war, Glee might have waited five years to get in the government.. Today, an out-oftown girl who comes to Ottawa can walk into the commission’s examining office on the third floor of the Jackson building, apply for a jol) in the morning,

and walk out. a civil servant —that afternoon. But Glee’s way is safer. And she waited only three weeks for a wire that told her to report for work if a Grade 2A was satisfactory.

In the civil service, a beginner steno, clerk, or whatever comes in as a Grade 1A or LB. Experience rates a Grade 2A or 2B. Glee’s rating would pay her one hundred and forty-five dollars a month, considerably less than she was making, but in her case pay wasn’t the most important thing. Her real worry was whether she could live away from her parents. Her father, a retired CNR chief telegrapher, now a truck dispatcher, didn’t think much of Glee leaving home, but Mrs. Jessee approved. After all. Glee was going to Ottawa, where respectability is almost as rampant as vice is believed to be in Montreal.

Glee had heard that housing was tough. Loneliness, she thought, might drive her back to her parents unless she found a decent place to live. She wrote to the commission, asking for more time in which to look for a rooming house. They wrote back and said she could have a room at Laurentian Terrace, a residence for government girls.

She arrived in the Continued on page 38

The Government Girl

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 25

capital on a Saturday. A friend met her at Uplands Airport and drove her into the Terrace via the Driveway, an elaborate park system that winds through the heart of the city beside the Rideau River and Canal. Glee was impressed by the beautiful parks.

Laurentian Terrace is a trim twostory building beside the War Archives on Sussex Street. It was built, Glee was told, during the war—the government’s answer to the problem of housing the low-paid single girls who came pouring into Ottawa. Its community dining and living room, single and double bedrooms, can accommodate three hundred girls.

Glee was welcomed by Winnifred Moyle, a dietician who superintends the Terrace. “We think of it more as a hotel than a home,” says Miss Moyle. “If the girls have a problem we’re happy to discuss it, but we don’t try to regulate their lives or morals.”

Room and meals, she told Glee, would be $47.50 a month. Her roommate would be Viola Wagner, who had gone home for the week end. Vi was a Grade 2 steno.

Glee toured the Parliament Buildings and saw Ottawa’s sights, but the week end was the loneliest she ever spent. Monday morning she went uptown to the Civil Service Commission. On Sparks Street she was carried along in a tide of femininity—thousands of girls hurrying to hundreds of government offices. Glee felt a little overwhelmed by the bigness of the machine, a feeling she has never entirely lost.

At the commission she was received by Betty Southgate, an attractive blond assignment officer with a brisk but sympathetic manner. “You’ll be working in Indian Affairs,” she told Glee. “That’s a branch of the Citizenship and Immigration Department. Ask for Mr. Pratt. He’s their executive assistant in charge of personnel.”

Ford Pratt, a friendly man with wavy greying hair, questioned Glee about her previous jobs and her plane trip down, marking the vigor, common sense and humor of her answers. Then he sent her to Colonel Hubert M. Jones, in the Indian Affairs welfare division.

Jones, who sat beneath a portrait of a Saskatchewan Indian chief, noted Glee’s poise with sharp but kindly eyes, and told about his division. “We help the Indian to help himself,” he said. “If we think he’s honest and reasonably capable, we loan him money for land, livestock, a sawmill or fishing boat. We’re also trying to clean up slum conditions. Where an Indian has no resources of his own, we build him a house. This means a lot of correspondence between our field men and Mr. Roberts, whom you’ll be working with.”

Charles Roberts, the chief clerk, assigned Glee to a desk among eight other girls. He was a short, stocky, hard-working, mild-mannered man in his mid-thirties. “We have to get the facts on every loan,” he told Glee. “Sometimes we have to refer to our legal advisers, or the minister’s office. Ninety percent of your work for me will be shorthand, typing and filing. But we also have to know at any time where we stand financially. So every time we loan or take in money you’ll automatically enter it in the ledgers.”

That night, Glee met her roommate, Vi Wagner, a bouncing, brown-haired, buxom girl five years younger than Glee. They liked each other instantly, although they proved to be opposites. Vi likes to laze around, Glee finds it hard to sit still. Vi would leave her

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clothes helter-skelter around their tiny room; Glee is meticulously tidy.

Glee enjoyed that winter. She went skating regularly at a park not far from the 'Terrace. She saw a lot of shows, a few concerts and hockey matches. Vi was popular with the boys, and Glee had more than her quota of blind dates. The Terrace has none of a hotel’s cool impersonality. The girls are drawn together by their common situation, and the clubby atmosphere is more akin to a CWAC barracks.

Inevitably it is a target for men. They call up almost every night for dates. “Even the hotels give them our number,” complains Winnifred Moyle. “It’s extremely annoying, and we certainly don’t encourage it.”

Often, a pair of girls will agree over the phone to meet two men in the lobby. The girls hold all the aces. They peer from the stairway into the lobby and, if they don’t like the looks of their blind dates they simply don’l show up.

At the Indian Affairs branch, Glee’s bosses were pleased with her work. When they asked her to run upstairs and get a file, she didn’t, like some, go grudgingly, grumbling that she wasn’t a messenger. She was smiling, willing, seldom late.

She regretted that she didn’t meel more people, but few government girls meet the public. Thousands spend their days laboring obscurely behind a wall of green filing cabinets. The government’s huge volume of tabulating, typing and filing is a perfect breeding ground for boredom.

“Our policy,” the Civil Service Commission states in a booklet given Glee when she joined, “is to place you in the job for which you will be most suited, in which you will be most satisfied.” This is fine in theory.

There are two thousand class titles in Canada’s civil service, and a girl can be reclassified for another type of work, thus broadening her scope. But, if she is doing a good job, persuading her boss to help her get a transfer is roughly equivalent to Fred Astaire persuading MGM to let him play cowboy roles.

There is nothing to stop Glee shopping around among the crown companies. Their employees are not controlled by the commission, though, wherever possible, they follow the commission’s lead in pay, benefits and working conditions. But, within the civil service proper, the commission must investigate all transfers.

It’s the inefficient girls who are transferred as a rule. “When I worked in industry,” Glee says, “a girl who didn’t know her shorthand would be told, ‘Go back to school!’ Here, they say, ‘We’ll put her in so and so’s office —he doesn’t give much shorthand.’ ”

In June 1951, Glee’s brother Fred drove her Hillman to Ottawa for her. The little English car, which Glee says “is all mine and not half the finance company’s,” gave her the choice of a dozen beaches at quitting time, all within half an hour’s drive. Even without a car there are plenty of nottoo-crowded places near Ottawa to cool off after a stifling day in the office.

Glee’s favorite working garb is a tailored suit. She says she doesn’t dress economically but doesn’t, like some girls, spend a third of her salary on clothes. She pays cash for most purchases, only has one charge account.

Credit comes so easy for girls in the government that lots of the younger ones are up to their ears in debt before they know it. Stores besiege them with tempting low-payment plans.

By the fall of 1951 Glee had outgrown her need for Laurentian Terrace. She and Vi began to look for an

apartment. Colonel Jones’ secretary told them about a friend, Louise Ovington, who was looking for someone to share a furnished third-floor flat, just fifteen minutes’ walk from Indian Affairs.

Louise, a slight, brown-haired, insurance-company steno, was older and compared to the government girls a little prim and precise, but there was little friction. “They say three girls don’t get along,” says Glee, “but we do.” Vi picked up a part-time singing job with a night-club band in Hull, and sometimes shirked her share of the work. But she made it. up by bouncing about the apartment singing comicsongs till the others would collapse into helpless laughter.

The man shortage was seldom reflected in the flat. Louise’s long-time steady, and other visiting boy friends, would stand outside, whistling up at the two small living-room windows— t he hell doesn’t carry to the third floor —till somebody let them in.

Housekeeping soon settled into a pattern. Breakfast was laid out the night before. At lunchtime (an hour and a half) the first one home would take the salad out of the refrigerator or put the soup on the rangette.

Glee’s office day ended at five. After dinner, her one hot meal of the day, if she didn’t have a date Glee would houseclean, wash or iron. Week ends, she tried t.o get out in the country. She has always found it hard to sit still with a book.

Every payday (twice monthly) the girls would chip in fourteen dollars each for food. At month’s end, they each pay $28.35 for rent, including lights and telephone. This budget, Glee admits, “doesn’t run to pastry, but as you see” —glancing down at her welldeveloped figure—“we don’t skimp.”

Many do. Thousands of girls sign in for work without breakfast, then dash out for a Coke or coffee. In the National Health and Welfare canteen one morning recently the vending machine rang up eighty sales of CocaCola in the ten minutes just after nine o’clock. Lunch, for thousands, is a sandwich, Coke and cigarette, snatched in the noon-hour scramble for restaurant seats. Some girls carry their lunch and munch it over a game of bridge in the office. In summer many lunch on the lawns of Parliament Hill or along the banks of the Rideau. The Civil Service Recreation Association has helped lower the noon-hour pressure by opening three cafeterias, where a girl can get a subsidized meal for fiftyfive cents.

The association, called RA by every-

one in Ottawa, is perhaps the largest club of its kind in the world. It provides its ten thousand members, organized in branch associations, with most games and sports. After Glee emerged as one of Indian Affairs’ best bowlers her RA branch association elected her secretary.

Among her bowling opponents was Ben Shapiro, a young Ottawa-born architect who worked two floors above her, designing the houses that Glee’s division loans the Indians money to build. One night she offered him a lift home in her Hillman. A week later, he telephoned and said he had two seats for a concert. Soon lien, an ex-army lieutenant, was calling on her four times a week.

In January 1952, RA asked each department to nominate its candidate for Miss Civil Service, an annual contest. Glee was chosen Miss Indian Affairs. The role didn’t come easy. On the gala night, as the judges watched the parade of contestants, Glee’s smile suddenly froze, and she went by “dead pan.”

At the end of Glee’s first year in the government the pattern of her Ottawa life was established. With little alteration it would fit thousands of girls in the capital. Like Glee, most of them are neither happy nor unhappy in their work. But every month, close to a thousand leave the government.

By last fall Glee had reached a typical crossroads. She was asking herself, “Where do I go from here?” She had had two raises—one, an automatic annual sixty-dollar increase, the other, a general cost-of-living boost. But she was still a Grade 2A. Her attitude to her work was still good, but she wondered if she couldn’t do better elsewhere.

As this is written. Glee is applying for a Grade 3 position in governmentowned Trans-Canada Air Lines’ Ottawa office. She is also scanning industry’s want ads.

Industry has the edge in pay, but most government sténos feel it’s worth something to know “you won’t suddenly find yourself walking the street just because the boss doesn’t like your face.” Once a girl is a permanent civil servant it takes an order-in-council to blast her out. Glee agrees that security is more important than pay, within reasonable limits.

Pension plans in most large companies now compare with the civil servant’s superannuation. Health benefits are about even. The government is generous with vacations and sick leave, but the civil service hasn’t yet gained a five-day week. The five-

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day week is one of TCA’s main attractions to Glee. Jones, her boss, says, “We would hate to lose Glee. Her personality and energy make her useful to our group as a whole.” If Glee waits long enough, she is certain of her Grade 3. In five or ten years, she might even get a Grade 4, or—that goal of every government steno—secretary to an executive, with a sixty-four-dollar-a-week top. But that’s the end of the road ahead. Few girls scale the wall that looms, intangible but real, between the clerical staff and the officer class. Less than two percent of all the women in the service are on the privileged side of the wall. Even if Glee got over the barrier, she would be handicapped by her sex. When a civil-service girl gets a title her cheque is generally dealt from the bottom pay bracket for her category, where a man would draw his off the top. The commission makes no apology for this. Its assignment is to hire the best possible at the least cost to the taxpayer. In doing so it must stay within the official moral code, which says that a woman should never deprive a man of a job, especially if he has a family, most especially if he is a veteran. Glee was given permanent status last August. Under the civil-service code she would lose her permanency if she married; until recently, when clerical help grew scarce, she would automatically have lost her job. If Glee decided not to marry and to remain with the civil service she would in her middle age be reasonably well-off, welltraveled, busy and useful, as set in her ways as a man her age, but no less well-adjusted. Only when considered as a group does the spectre of the spinster stalk the federal corridors.

It’s doubtful if Glee wants such a career. Few girls do. Says one, “Scratch the surface of most government girls and you’ll find they’re home material.” What are their home-making chances? Much better than popular opinion would have it. The Ottawa census figures, released last fall, show 51,919 unmarried females to 46,225 unmarried males—about eight single women to seven single men. There aren’t any figures to show what happens to the 5,694 leftover females. But they won’t necessarily become old maids. Half the girls who quit the government leave to get married. A majority of these new bridegrooms are caught in the girls’ home towns, or during a furlough in Banff or Bermuda. Glee is most assuredly home material. She says there is nothing serious between her and Ben Shapiro. “But,” she adds, “I’m hoping to get married sometime.” Today she is in the same position she left Calgary to get away from—a boy friend she isn’t planning to marry, a job that is becoming routine. But she doesn’t regret for one moment coming to Ottawa. “I guess I am in a rut,” she says, “maybe everyone’s in a rut. But I’m in a rut with a lot more room than the one I was in at home.” Since this article was written, Glee Jessee has pursued the path of many of the brightest and most efficient government girls. She has resigned from the civil service and is now a Grade 3 steno working a five-day week in the Ottawa traffic office of TCA — still a government girl but outside the civil service. ★