What the Well Dressed Secretary Wore

It was 1925 when Fern Thoma graduated from Central High School and entered the workforce in her hometown of Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa. Her first known job was as a clerk at S.S. Kresge, a five-and-dime store. Fern did not remain a clerk for long, however; when a likely more lucrative position as a switchboard operator presented itself, she took it. As she recalled years later, however, she immediately found the fast-paced work environment to be much too stressful, and was relieved when her mother told her that she didn’t have to keep the job!

A position as a bookkeeper at the Sioux City Cooperative Dairy Marketing Association, which collaborated with local farmers to market and distribute dairy products, was much more to her liking. Fern had received a certificate of proficiency in typewriting during her final year of high school; perhaps this helped to qualify her for a bookkeeper’s duties. She held this position from 1926 until the summer of 1929, when she married at the age of twenty-one and moved with her husband to Nebraska.

Fern Thoma, Sioux City, Iowa, 1927; digital image 2014, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2022. Collection courtesy of David Adam.

A photograph of Fern, dated 19 May 1927, is labeled in her handwriting, “Yours truly in front of Coop Dairy where I worked until I got married and we moved to Norfolk Nebr. What the well dressed secretary wore.” Fern can be seen wearing a loose-fitting, drop-waisted dress with a pleated, tiered skirt. The fabric is patterned with a rose print, and a collared open vest in a solid color is worn over her dress. Short, waved hair frames her face, and she wears heeled shoes. She stands before the brick exterior wall of a building, the bright midday sun casting her shadow behind her.

The “Coop Dairy,” as Fern called it, was located on Howard Street, near the Floyd River. Fern lived with her parents, and although they moved houses several times in the late 1920s, they remained within a half mile or so of Fern’s workplace. The well dressed secretary would have needed comfortable shoes for the ten-minute walk to and from the dairy!

Copyright © 2022 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

SOURCES

“Dakota County to Have Dairy Meeting,” Sioux City Journal, 20 January 1926; Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com : accessed 30 May 2022).

Fern Lavonne (Thoma) Adam, conversation with the author, 2001; notes in author’s files.

“Notes from S.C. Public Schools,” Sioux City Journal, 06 March 1925; Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com : accessed 30 May 2022).

“Telephone Operators,” Engineering and Technology History Wiki (https://ethw.org/Telephone_Operators : accessed 30 May 2022).

“U.S, City Directories, 1821-1989,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 May 2022), entry for Fern Thomas [sic]; citing “Polk’s Sioux City Directory, 1926 (R.L. Polk & Co., 1926),” 635.

“U.S, City Directories, 1822-1995,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 May 2022), entry for Fern. Thoma; citing “Polk’s Sioux City Directory, 1927 (R.L. Polk & Co., 1927),” 491.

“U.S, City Directories, 1822-1995,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 May 2022), entry for Fern. Thoma; citing “Polk’s Sioux City Directory, 1928 (R.L. Polk & Co., 1928),” 505.

“U.S, City Directories, 1822-1995,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 May 2022), entry for Fern. Thoma; citing “Polk’s Sioux City Directory, 1929 (R.L. Polk & Co., 1929),” 400.

“What Did Women Wear in the 1920s?” Vintage Dancer (https://vintagedancer.com/1920s/when-to-wear-what-in-the-1920s/ : accessed 30 May 2022).

2 thoughts on “What the Well Dressed Secretary Wore

  1. Dave Adam

    Thanks for this email. I didn’t know hardly any of the infor you sent . Thanks a million Love Dave

    Reply

Leave a Reply to Dave Adam Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s