A New Career Path for Women

Katherine (Ryan) Gibbs was born in 1863 into a wealthy family. She received a cultural education from two aunts. When visiting her brother in Montana, she fell in love and married a watchmaker by the name of William Gibbs. Her husband died when she was 46. He left no will, but lots of debts and two sons for Katherine to raise.

Katherine had just a high-school education and at the time there were few employment opportunities for women in the workforce. The attitude at the time was women’s place was in the home.

Katherine decided to start a secretarial school. Men typically filled secretarial positions as apprentices for higher-level jobs they hoped to eventually be promoted into. During the Civil War, more women were hired as secretaries since men were in combat. The invention of the telephone and the availability of typewriters required that secretaries be trained.

Schools existed for training secretaries, but these prepared students for very low-level jobs. Katherine wanted to focus her program on high-grade positions where graduates would be prepared to take on major responsibilities. She focused on the whole person, and standards were set at a high level.

Graduates of the Katherine Gibbs Schools did achieve the high level of excellence she hoped for. Many were pioneer leaders in fields formerly held by men. While the Katherine Gibbs Schools have been absorbed into other institutions today, Katherine created a model for how to raise the aspiration level of women.

Beginnings may not be totally new. Some will take existing ideas and expand them in important ways. For Katherine Gibbs, she provided a vehicle for women to have careers that would have been closed to them.

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“I can wish nothing better for you than that you learn to think in terms of possibilities rather than difficulties and so make all achievements easier for yourself.” – Katherine Gibbs

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