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  • Annmarie Throckmorton, M.A.

Paper Cutout

In my senior year of high school (1968), when I saw the boys being led into metalwork and woodworking shop classes I reasoned that since I had done well in all of my advanced English and Mathematics classes I would also join them in learning how to handle the tools of life.  My father had already taught me the correct way to make household repairs with glue, how to strip wires to rewire an electrical appliance, hammer nails where needed, saw wood, and even use a coping saw at which I could admittedly use some practice.  I knew how to measure angles, and I had a pretty good reckoning for width and depth so I was looking forward to learning practical applications.  At school I had previously suffered through the girls' home-making class because, as it was explained to me, "All of the girls must learn to boil an egg, cross-stitch embroidery onto a gingham apron, and other homemaking skills."  So when I was firmly guided into the girls' typing lessons, which seemed to me seemed to be a doomed path to clerical work, against which I was completely opposed as I intended to be a scientist.  I wanted to study, classify, and analyze the world and its amazing phenomena.

I demanded to see the school principal, but he was not available.  I was guided to the school nurse who insisted that I must take the girls' typing class.  I roamed the halls looking for a sympathetic teacher but there were none.  I caught up with the shop instructor who after much argument finally allowed me into his woodworking class; the metalwork class which I preferred being deemed too dangerous for a woman.  As a future scientist I thought I might need to know how to design and build metal and glass laboratory equipment as my scientist father did.  I resolved to catch up to that when I could, but I never did.


In woodworking class I was allowed just one project, and that was to make a wooden lamp.  The instructor cut two squares of wood for me, he drilled a channel through one piece, and set me to work at a small table well away from the boys, in whom I had zero interest anyway as by then I knew that they would only hamper me if given half a chance.  I already knew how to use both heavy and finer grades of sandpaper.  I already knew how to glue and stain wood.  I already knew how to thread a wire through a channel and then strip the wires and twist them into place.  I learned nothing in that class, except that I did learn that if I protested loud and long enough I could get closer to my goals.

To get into the woodworking class I had agreed to a compromise in that I agreed to use my study hour time to also take the wretched typing class.  When I finally entered the typing class I was told that there was no manual typewriter for me, that I would have to learn to type on a paper cutout of a keyboard. (Was I being punished?)  Now these manual typewriters had physical keys that went up and down from a row set into the typewriter carriage; in order to lift up each letter in the sequence of each word, one had to press very firmly on each key.  It took practice to strengthen one's fingers to do this for any length of time; and to think that typists were headed toward eight hour days of typing, no wonder so many women developed arthritic fingers.  As I sat typing the air at my typewriter keyboard paper cutout, I complained vociferously at regular intervals, saying that it was absurd to think anyone could learn to type using a paper keyboard.  It did not sweeten my disposition when the teacher told the class that the QUERTY keyboards we were using (referring to the first six letters in the top row of the keyboard) was designed to confound women typists because they were able to type faster than the mechanical keys could move up and down, with the consequence that the keys tangled up.  The typewriter designers' solution was to arrange the keys in a way that inhibited the flow of the women's typing, slowing them down so that the typewriter keys did not tangle.  What can one say to this kind of absurdity, or to the fact that the entire English-speaking world still types on this calculated impediment?

I learned to type in 1968 on a paper cutout of a typewriter keyboard.

(non-commercial use of internet sourced emoji)

by Annmarie Throckmorton, copyright 2024



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