1923: Emancipation Machine

Christopher Latham Sholes

“I feel that I have done something for the women who have
always had to work so hard. This will enable them more easily
to earn a living.”

Statement of Christopher Latham Sholes, inventor of the typewriter

 

HOW WOMEN ACHIEVED ECONOMIC EMANCIPATION THROUGH THE WRITING MACHINE

The greatest of all the triumphs of the typewriter, greater even than its influence on business or education or language, is the transformation it has wrought in our whole social order.

This is a phase of typewriter influence which even today is far too little understood. The fact that the writing machine has freed the world from pen slavery is itself a triumph so vast and palpable that it rivets attention, almost to the exclusion of anything else. This is not because the facts are obscure concerning other phases of typewriter influence. That it was the writing machine which opened to women the doors of business life is so well known that the mere mention of it sounds like a commonplace. But few indeed have considered the real importance of this fact in its relation to human society.

The movement that we know by the name of “feminism” is undoubtedly the most significant and important social evolution of our time. The aims and aspirations behind this great movement need not detain us. Suffice it is to say that, like all great social movements, its cause and its aim have been primarily economic. What is known as “sex-emancipation” might almost be translated to read “economic emancipation” at any rate it could only be attained through one means, namely, equal economic opportunity, and such opportunity could never have been won by mere statute or enactment. Before the aims of “feminism” could be achieved it was necessary that women should find and make this opportunity, and they found it in the writing machine.

We have described the transformation of the whole business world since the invention of the writing ma-chine. Equally revolutionary, and facilitated by the same agency, has been the transformation in the economic status of women during the same period. The business office of 1873 seems no more remote from the present than the economic restrictions imposed on the women of fifty years ago. It might almost be said that no real career was possible for her outside of the home. Such opportunities for gainful occupation as did exist were usually for the untrained and uneducated, in shops, factories, domestic service and the like. In only two other callings had they made themselves indispensable, that of school teaching and nursing, and all the openings in this and a few minor occupations could do little more than utilize a fraction of intelligent womanhood. They furnished no adequate basis for true and general economic freedom.

—The Herkimer County Historical Society: The Story of the Typewriter 1873-1923

 

Francis E. Spinner

The book also includes this picture of a monument to General Francis E. Spinner, who was appointed Treasurer of the United States by Abraham Lincoln in 1861. Due to the American Civil War, there was a shortage of men to fill government clerkships. Under Spinner’s direction, several hundred women were appointed to these jobs. The inscription reads: “The fact that I was instrumental in introducing women to employment in the office of the government gives me more real satisfaction than all of the other deeds of my life.”

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