You see them every morning at a quarter to nine, rushing out of the maw
of the subway tunnel, filing out of Grand Central Station, crossing Lexington
and Park and Madison and Fifth avenues, the hundreds and hundreds of girls.
Some of them look eager and some look resentful, and some of them look
as if they haven’t left their beds yet. Some of them have been up
since six-thirty in the morning, the ones who commute from Brooklyn and
Yonkers and New Jersey and Staten Island and Connecticut. They carry the
morning newspapers and overstuffed handbags. Some of them are wearing
pink or chartreuse fuzzy overcoats and five-year-old ankle-strap shoes
and have their hair up in pin curls underneath kerchiefs. Some of them
are wearing chic black suits (maybe last year’s but who can tell?)
and kid gloves and are carrying their lunches in violet-sprigged Bonwit
Teller paper bags. None of them has enough money.
At eight-forty-five Wednesday morning, January second, 1952, a twenty-year-old
girl named Caroline Bender came out of Grand Central Station and headed
west and uptown toward Radio City. She was a more than pretty girl with
dark hair and light eyes and a face with a good deal of softness and intelligence
in it. She was wearing a grey tweed suit, which had been her dress-up
suit in college, and was carrying a small attaché case, which contained
a wallet with five dollars in it, a book of commuter tickets, some make-up,
and three magazines entitled respectively The Cross, My Secret Life, and
It was one of those cold, foggy midwinter mornings in New York, the kind
that makes you think of lung ailments. Caroline hurried along with the
rest of the crowd, hardly noticing anybody, nervous and frightened and
slightly elated. It was her first day at the first job she had ever had
in her life, and she did not consider herself basically a career girl.
Last year, looking ahead to this damp day in January, she had thought
she would be married. Since she’d had a fiancé it seemed
logical. Now she had no fiancé and no one she was interested in,
and the new job was more than an economic convenience, it was an emotional
necessity. She wasn’t sure that being a secretary in a typing pool
could possibly be engrossing, but she was going to have to make it so.
Otherwise she would have time to think, and would remember too much…
Fabian Publications occupied five air-conditioned floors in one of the
modern buildings in Radio City. On this first week of the new year the
annual hiring has just been completed. Three secretaries had left the
typing pool, one to get married, the other two for better jobs. Three
new secretaries had been hired to start on Wednesday, the second of January.
One of these was Caroline Bender.
It was five minutes before nine when Caroline reached the floor where
the typing pool was located, and she was surprised to find the large room
dark and all the typewriters still neatly covered. She had been afraid
she would be late, and now she was the first one. She found the switch
that turned on the ceiling lights and prowled around waiting for someone
to appear. There was a large centre room with rows of desks for the secretaries,
and on the edges of this room were the closed doors of the offices for
editors. Tinsel Christmas bells and red bows were still taped to some
of the doors, looking bedraggled and sad now that the season was over.
She looked into several of the offices and saw that they seemed to progress
in order of the occupant’s importance from small tile-floored cubicles
with two desks, to larger ones with one desk, and finally to two large
offices with carpet on the floor, leather lounging chairs, and wood-panelled
walls. From the books and magazines lying around in them she could see
that one of these belonged to the editor of Derby Books and the other
to the editor of The Cross. She heard voices then in the main room, and
the sound of laughter and greetings. Stricken with a sudden attack of
shyness, she came slowly out of the editor’s office.
It was nine o’clock and the room was suddenly filling up with girls,
none of whom noticed her presence at all. The teletype operator was combing
her hair out of its pin curls, one of the typists was going from desk
to desk collecting empty glass jars and taking coffee orders. Covers were
being pulled off typewriters, coats hung up, newspapers spread out on
desks to be read, and as each new arrival came in she was greeted with
delighted cries. It sounded as though they had all been separated from
one another for four weeks, not four days. Caroline didn’t know
which desk was hers and she was afraid to sit at someone else’s,
so she kept standing, watching, and feeling for the first time that morning
that she was an outsider at a private club.