I am self-taught in shorthand, my studies starting when I was in junior high school. I found Mom’s old book, Gregg Shorthand, Functional Method, Anniversary Edition, Part One, 1936, by Louis A. Leslie, from when she was in secretarial school. I was interested in secret codes and also was concerned about being able to make good notes in college (yes, I was a worrywart back then, too). Using what Mr. Leslie later called the “two-finger method,” I flipped back and forth between the shorthand text and the in-book transcript and learned to read Gregg. Part Two of the set was nowhere to be found in the house; it would be another few years before I would find a copy in a used bookstore, as well as the 1929 Anniversary Manual and other Anniversary Gregg books.
After learning the basics, I primarily used my shorthand to make school notes. I never transcribed them; there was no need. Sometime during my college days, I completed my initial shorthand instruction and started speedbuilding, eventually reaching a respectable 150 w.p.m. Along the way, I took up the stenotype, reaching a questionable 100 w.p.m., before finally abandoning that project.
It was a few years later when I took a job with McGraw-Hill, working on the Series 90 Gregg texts and tapes. I was politely yet firmly told the machine was a conflict of interest and stopped classes. I also had jury duty for the first time and figured I’d go mad if I had to take down all that drivel. (OK, so it was a civil case and not too exciting.) So my machine career ended abruptly. As it turned out, years later when I went back to try my hand at the machine (thinking yes, I can do this!), my wrists ached so badly, I had to stop within two weeks.
While working at McGraw-Hill, I had the pleasure of meeting Louis Leslie, Mr. Shorthand himself, and Martin Dupraw, who held the title of World’s Champion Shorthand Writer 1925, 1926, and 1927. It was Mr. Dupraw who set the record of 282 w.p.m. with 99.9% accuracy on literary matter. I was surprised at how spry Mr. Dupraw was (if I'm not mistaken, he was in his 80s when I met him) and how gracious Mr. Leslie was towards me. For the record, while I was at Mr. Leslie's home, Mr. Dupraw showed up to play tennis!
Backing up a bit time-wise, immediately after college, I became a male secretary. I had great skills and figured, with my college background and my ability to speak French, I could work for a senior-level executive, especially one who traveled. I guess I believed those stories I’d read in my shorthand texts about secretaries—male secretaries—advancing through the ranks of business to become corporate leaders. The problem was the world had changed since those books were published in the 1930s and 1940s: men were no longer secretaries. It was a profession relegated to women. I don’t have figures, but, as a male secretary, I was one of a VERY small minority. Most companies didn’t know what to do with me when I applied for a job; many executives wouldn’t even interview me; those who did were generally rude. I recall one very high-level job where the first and most important question was, “Can you make good coffee?” Many executives were more blunt, one telling me, “I want some buxom blonde I can flirt with, not you. Thanks for coming in.” That was a very short interview. At least he was honest. One legal firm told me to sue them if I really wanted to be interviewed. But personnel offices and temp agencies loved me since I consistently typed at 100+ on a typewriter. It was clear when typing that I had to wait for the carriage to return.
I served as a secretary for a number of years before finally deciding to get a second master’s in computer science. I haven’t taken dictation since 1988 and, at last informal testing (March 2014), was writing a pretty good 130. Today, I am a real geek who programs, crunches numbers, and generates more statistics than I ever thought anyone would want. I truly love what I do, but shorthand continues to sing that siren’s song.
Since my shorthand beginnings, I’ve started to learn Anniversary Pitman, Pitman 2000, and several flavors of Speedwriting several times and always get sidetracked. I can see advantages and disadvantages of all the systems with which I’m acquainted, including the machine. Who knows? With the launching of this site, I just might be inspired to take out a few speed tapes and crank up my old friend yet again. Or make some new ones.
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