The Typewriter Girls


Both my aunt and my grandmother attended secretarial school in St. Louis, MO. In a conversation I learned that my aunt went to Miss Hickey’s School for Secretaries. After doing a little digging I discovered that not only is this school still well known among many generations of St. Louis residents, its founder Margaret Hickey has a fascinating and rich history all her own. This play was inspired by Margaret Hickey and the many generations of women who graduated from her school.


Characters: 5 women, 2 men (ages range from 18 to 65)
Running Time: 2 hours (plus intermission)
Summary: This play is inspired by the Margaret Hickey Training School for Secretaries located in St. Louis, Missouri, and its founder Margaret Hickey. Opened in 1933, the school is still operating today as Hickey College. The piece explores the hopes and dreams of four different women, each from a different era, entering life by the same route.

While taking courses at Miss Hickey’s school each of the girls finds herself working part-time for Fowler’s Confections. Their boss, Henry C. Fowler, is a dastardly man who has been up to no good at the company and the girls are about to find out about it. Meanwhile, they’re also falling in love with Mr. Fowler’s dashing son, trying to keep up with their secretarial school courses, and attempting to figure out what to do with their lives. It is a story about the work we do, what we hope it will gain for us, the ways that it influences our lives and our dreams.

• This project was made possible in large part thanks to a grant from the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, Inc.

When & Where

Availability: Available for production.
Production History:
• Reading at the Women’s Project Rehearsal Room, New York, NY, directed by Rachel Chavkin (Artistic Director of The Team), November 2009
• Invited reading at the Women’s Project Rehearsal Room, New York, NY, directed by Rachel Chavkin, April 2009

More about the show

Inspired by the generations of women in my family who have worked as secretaries or administrators in one capacity or another (including myself), I wanted to take a look at how the ambitions of four generations of secretaries was effected by their work and the possibilities that it held for their futures. My aunt, a St. Louis native, attended a rather famous secretarial school there, the Margaret Hickey School for Secretaries, and my grandmother, who passed away in late 2007 at the age of 94, also attended one of the city’s secretarial colleges. After some initial digging, I found out that Margaret Hickey had quite a legacy in St. Louis, and it seems that the graduates of her school have created quite a legacy as well.

In June of 2008, with the support of a Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation grant, I traveled to St. Louis to research Margaret Hickey’s papers, her school and its attendees. While there I also, with the help of the school (now Hickey College), threw an alumni party, which attracted a wonderful crowd including alumni from as early as the class of 1934. I was also able to conduct telephone interviews and in-person interviews with other alumni, some of the current faculty, as well as the current president of the school. Since then I’ve been synthesizing all these stories and ideas into a rambunctious and fun tale about the work we do and the role it plays in our lives.

Read the St. Louis Post Dispatch article (22 April 2008) about the project by clicking here.

The image to the right is a portrait of Margaret Hickey from the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, of which she was President from 1944-46. The portrait was donated to Hickey College during the alumni reception hosted by myself and the school for alumni.

Betty Bilgere (28 July 1922 – 30 June 2008)

I’m sorry to report that Betty Bilgere recently passed away. She was one of the most beloved director’s of the Miss Hickey’s after Margaret Hickey herself, about whom so many of the women I interviewed and heard from had the most wonderful things to say. She was director during the 1950s and 1960s and went on to serve as the executive director of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis for 19 years.

You can read the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s obituary for Betty by clicking here.

Also, you may wish to add some of your memories to the online memorial site set up by a friend of Betty’s. You can visit the online memorial here.

A photo of Miss Hickey’s Graduation Ceremony, August 1950

(Generously donated to the project by Pat Fanning.)

A photo of Miss Hickey at her desk, the same composition as the portrait that hangs in the current President’s office at Hickey College.

Information and Images from the May 29, 2008 Alumni Reception at Hickey College

The reception was a great success and alumni from every decade of the school’s 75 years were present, including the 1930s. I had the opportunity to speak with almost everyone present and have also conducted numerous phone interviews with those who were unable to attend.

Many thanks to the entire staff of the school, including President Gearin and Connie Scott, as well as all the alumni who participated for all their help and time!

The staff of Hickey helped to gather photos of the reception and I’ve posted them on a Flickr page where you can view and comment on the images and also help me to identify all the different people in the pictures.

View all the images from the reception by clicking here.

Information About Margaret Hickey and the Margaret Hickey School for Secretaries (founded in 1933, now Hickey College)

A brief, public biography of Margaret Hickey associated with her papers located in the Western Historical Manuscripts Collection at the University of Missouri, St. Louis can be read here or below. This biography does include some information on how the school was started following the successes of a YWCA program that she founded in the years prior.

Margaret A. Hickey–lawyer, journalist, business woman, public servant, and volunteer–was active in business and government affairs from the 1930s into the 1970s. An interest in women and their economic and social problems proved the motivating force behind much of her work. As a lawyer, she became conscious of the unique legal problems facing women; as a government advisor, she studied various facets of women’s role in society; and as the founder and director of a secretarial school, she helped train educated women for careers in the labor force.

Although an advocate of equal rights for women, Margaret Hickey based her feminism on the belief that women were agreeably unique and different from men. She denounced feminists who denigrated the role of women in the home and the role of volunteer in society, for MH believed that women had a very powerful role to play as mother and wife. Moreover, MH called upon women to “drop the old cold war of the sexes” and enlist the support of men to help them overcome the tragic inequities in employment, education, and politics. Until true equality was reached, she felt it was not wise for a woman to “throw away the advantages of her sex.”

Margaret A. Hickey was born on March 14, 1902, in Kansas City, Missouri, the second daughter of Elizabeth Wynne and Charles L. Hickey. Elizabeth Wynne, prior to marriage, attended Liberty Women’s College, a finishing school for young women, in Kansas City. She then moved to Paris to study music. While in Paris, Elizabeth Wynne met Charles Hickey, twenty years her senior, and at the age of 30, married him. Charles Hickey, of Irish descent, had attended the University of Kansas where he acquired a classical education. Coming from a family of some means, he entered the Foreign Service and served at posts in Europe and the Ottoman Empire until World War I. The whole family accompanied him during his tours of duty.

The Hickeys’ first daughter died in infancy, leaving Margaret the oldest of four children. Margaret Hickey recalled her childhood as a happy one. Her parents were devoted to each other and openly expressed their affections. Discipline, what little there was of it, was meted out by a governess, not her parents. From her father, Margaret acquired a love of reading. She learned to read at an early age and remained an avid reader all her life. From her mother came the notion of helping others, a belief characteristic of much of what Margaret Hickey did.

In 1914, the Hickeys moved back to the United States and settled in Kansas City, where Margaret Hickey attended Mt. Marty School. Prior to this time, Margaret Hickey did not attend a regular school. Mrs. Hickey herself tutored all of her children at home. Once back in the States, Elizabeth Hickey took up the suffrage cause and interested her daughter in making placards, marching in parades, and campaigning for the vote. Her service in the suffrage movement heightened MH’s interest in other social reforms and during the 1920s she worked for the peace movement.

Upon graduation, Margaret Hickey enrolled in college but dropped out in 1921 to take a job with the local newspaper, the Kansas City Star. As a reporter, she came into contact with many prominent business women involved in the National Federation of Business and Professional Women. This organization appealed to Margaret Hickey and she managed to convince these women that she was qualified to become a member.

One woman in particular, Judge Florence Allen, so impressed Margaret Hickey that she decided to go to law school. In 1923 Margaret Hickey entered the University of Kansas City Law School (now part of the University of Missouri). She made such good grades that in her sophomore year she pledged Kappa Beta Phi, the honorary legal sorority for women.

In law school, Margaret Hickey encountered some instances of sex discrimination. Although qualifying for the debating team in her first year, she was discredited because of her sex. The next year, however, after some vigorous campaigning, Margaret Hickey was selected for the team. Sexual discrimination was also evident in the classroom. One professor of criminal law requested that she not attend class on the days that he lectured on rape cases, as it was improper to discuss the subject in front of a “nice young woman.”

In 1928 Margaret Hickey graduated from law school and passed her bar exams for the state of Missouri. Although several good firms in Kansas City and St. Louis offered her jobs, she declined them to go into private practice. That year Margaret Hickey moved to St. Louis to open her own office. The Depression soon turned her practice into poverty law as potential clients turned into non-paying customers. During the Depression Margaret Hickey was able to maintain her practice because her father’s will provided her with a small trust fund, the income from which paid her living expenses for the next six years.

After moving to St. Louis, Margaret Hickey maintained her contacts with the Business and Professional Women’s Club and began to do volunteer work for the YWCA and the Red Cross. She also joined a citizen’s group concerned with the problems of the unemployed, particularly unemployed women. In 1931, Margaret Hickey convinced the YWCA to let her organize a class to help retrain unemployed women with previous business experience or a college education. Her program offered to these women counseling and guidance, some retraining and skill development, and placement advice. Margaret Hickey ran this program until 1933 when the federal government became interested in the program and took it over for the YWCA.

On the advice of some friends and businessmen, Margaret Hickey decided to open up her own secretarial school. She borrowed some money from her mother and established the Margaret Hickey School for Secretaries at Delmar and Skinker, St. Louis, in 1933. When the business proved a success, Margaret Hickey have up her law career to devote full time to the school.

That same year Margaret Hickey met her future husband, Joseph T. Strubinger, during a Red Cross Fund drive. He was widower, fourteen years older than she, and the senior partner of a law firm. He greatly impressed Margaret Hickey because he was one of the few men she had met genuinely interested in her as a person and her many activities. On October 20, 1935, they were married.

Among her many activities during the 1930s, Margaret Hickey served on an advisory committee to the Social Security Board and just prior to World War II, she worked on a committee considering women’s problems for the Office of Emergency Planning, headed by General Knutson and Sidney Hillman. In this capacity she met Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor, who later recommended Margaret Hickey for the Women’s Advisory Committee of the War Manpower Commission in 1942. The WAC was set up by the War Manpower Commission to study the problems involved in recruiting five million women into the wartime economy. From 1942-1945, Margaret Hickey acted as chairman of this committee. At the same time she was an observer on the National Management Labor Committee. National prominence contributed to her election as president of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women. She served in this capacity from 1944-1946 and thereafter remained honorary president.

As national president of BPW, and at the invitation of the State Department, Margaret Hickey attended the United Nations San Francisco Conference in 1945. She worked with other prominent women on the human rights section of the U.N. Charter. The following year, Margaret Hickey joined the staff of the Ladies Home Journal as editor of Public Affairs. To fulfill her duties as editor, Margaret Hickey maintained an apartment in Philadelphia and commuted between there and her home in St. Louis. In 1953 she received the Ben Franklin award for distinguished public service journalism.

By 1950, Margaret Hickey had gained such national prominence that she was in great demand as a public lecturer, both nationally and internationally. For the next 25 years, she maintained a vigorous lecture schedule. In 1962, she was appointed by John F. Kennedy to the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, officially inducting Margaret Hickey into the women’s movement. As a result of this appointment, she contracted with the publishers of Seventeen Magazine to write a book on careers for young women. However, the manuscript, completed around 1965, was never published.

Though in her seventies, Margaret Hickey continued as Public Affairs Editor for Ladies Home Journal, and her involvement in government and world affairs never waned. From 1974 to 1976 she served as Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid for the U.S.

Department of State. She also continued an active role in the Red Cross at both a national and international level, attending conventions and global conferences, giving speeches, and serving on advisory committees.

In 1982, Margaret Hickey celebrated her 80th birthday. As an active octogenarian, she became an advocate for careers for the elderly. Also, scholars began to see her and utilize her as a unique resource and subject for those studying women’s history. Still highly interested in education, she became involved with the Henry Luce Foundation’s Scholar Selection Committee, as well as the Women’s Studies Advisory Council of the University of Arizona in Tucson.

On December 7, 1994, Margaret Hickey died in Tucson, Arizona, where she had lived for the last twenty years of her life.

Typewriter Miscellany

An old video of Jerry Lewis’ well-known comedy routine, pretending to play along to Leroy Anderson’s music, The Typewriter Song

2 comments on “The Typewriter Girls”:

  1. My mother went to school at Miss Hickey’s in the 1930s, about the time it opened. I’ve been looking for photos of the school from that time and Hickey College is looking for them. However, they have not come up with anything. May I use these photos in my family history — it’s for family only. I will probably print about 20 copies.

    Thank you in advance.

    1. Hi Susan:

      Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, just seeing this note. I will send you an email in response.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *