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This personality quiz, recently unearthed at the National Archives at Fort Worth, was meant for future secretaries taking a course with the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training.
Published in 1959, the quiz was most certainly directed to young women, who would have made up almost all of the pool of future administrative professionals. As such, it’s a valuable representation of the kinds of emotional work that women were expected to do in the office.
The ideal secretary, as represented here, could not only type quickly and accurately, but also acted as an all-purpose social buffer for her boss—a self-negating chameleon, ready to adapt to any social situation.
Ask yourself, the quiz prompted the student, whether you are good at feigning interest in others: “When people bore me, do I conceal it?” (One gets the impression that the secretary needed to be ready to put up with a fair bit of mansplaining.)
When speaking, the secretary should have a “pleasing and well-modulated” voice, and should always be “cheerful.” In a somewhat contradictory bit of advice, she should also always be “sincere in what [she] says and does.”
Want to blow off steam with your fellow secretaries after all that pretending? Too bad. The quiz sternly forbids gossip, asking the reader to examine her habits of “meddling in other people’s business” and “making fun of others behind their backs.” As for “sarcastic remarks,” those were also strictly prohibited.