Like many (mostly girls) my age, my first job was as a babysitter, and my salary was usually no more than 50 cents/hour. If I was lucky, there were tasty snacks available and the kids were asleep when I arrived.
I was proud of the independence which having my own money provided me, but that meager hourly wage did not go far. I recall one particularly awful job during which I worked ten hours and was given only $5.00. There was no extra consideration for the fact that the parents were supposed to return early in the evening, and they never checked on me once during the night. I never sat for them again!
Therefore, I was excited when I was given the opportunity for “real employment”, which to me, was a job in which social security and state and federal taxes were deducted. My mother worked for a group of local doctors, so when I was around sixteen, I began working at her office. I was the resident floater, filling in as a receptionist, file clerk, and switchboard operator.
As the receptionist, I learned most of the local zip codes which I still remember today, and I prided myself in knowing the addresses of many of the regular patients. Those were usually the allergy patients, who would come in as often as once a week during the busy hay fever season.
A switchboard was a vestige of the telephone dark ages, which came of age during the early 1900’s. In fact, I was a third generation switchboard operator. In addition to my mother, my grandmother was an early operator, working on the third floor of the Boonton National Bank Building, which was on Main Street across from the theater.
The way it worked was a call would come into the building, and my job was to plug the cord associated with the incoming number into a hole under the name corresponding to the desired doctor. Go and Google “Lily Tomlin” and Switchboard and you will see what it looked like.
I probably received minimum wage, which was $1.50 when I began working and a whopping $2.20 by my junior year of college. The thing is, I was able to pay my tuition and room and board with my income from that job. My tuition was only $535 at that time. I recently found my earnings statement from 1974, which was just under $811- take home. As you can see, I was able to cover my tuition, and with a few small scholarships, I was able to pay my room and board. It was such a different time then, and no one graduated with the kind of debt that befalls students today.
It is so much tougher, but luckily, I was able to do it myself, because the money just was not there from my parents. I was fortunate even though I now know that we were quite poor growing up..