Inspirational Blogs from Before You Were Born

By Jackie Mathys  |  December 17, 2019

Like many of you, I struggle with coming up with “original content” for my blog. You’d think it would be easy for a former freelance writer—and now owner of a writers agency—to crank out pithy, influencer-grade content on a regular basis. It is not.

So, what do I do for inspiration? What I always do. I walk across the street to Powell’s Books.

Lo and behold, there it was last week, in the business section: Human Relations in Business, published in MCMXXXVIII (1938). Pure gold, and just $7.99!

What writing in the workplace used to look like

Long before email, PDFs, or animated GIFs, companies communicated at their employees on paper, usually nice stationery. In this case, they mailed out an ongoing series of printed pamphlets, to be collected over time in a little leather, 3-ring “portfolio,” pictured above. Here is how they introduced the program to employers:

Now THIS is original content

Back in MCMXXXVIII, no one knew better than The Stevens-Davis Company how problematic personnel can be. And boy did they let ‘er rip in those 52 weekly messages, disseminated by personnel managers far and wide. Take this doozy, describing an unsuspecting company man:

Business communications these days can’t be so colorful. We have to choose our words carefully so no one gets offended (sued). The only reason anyone reads employee handbooks anymore is to find out how much PTO they get, when they’re eligible for healthcare, and if they’re under a non-compete.

Today’s workers wouldn’t believe how business communiques were written back then, and how entertaining they are to read now—all racist, sexist, discriminatory and other inflammatory language aside. Here’s another, albeit subtler, gem:

Normal. It was a different time.

Why publish these pre-historic blog posts now?

Other than because the copyright ran out a long time ago and they’re free, I have three reasons:

  1. To inspire writers and anyone who appreciates excellent but stunningly inappropriate writing from the workplace back in the day. This is English at its plainest, featuring many words that haven’t seen the light of day in decades.
  2. To horrify modern-day HR people with jaw-dropping examples of how their ancestors used to phrase things, and to show how far we’ve come, I guess.
  3. To illustrate something I’ve known for a long time. Even though business, technology, fashion, refrigerators and everything else in the world evolves, human nature barely does. As wild as these messages seem in 2018, they largely still apply today—just now to all humans, not just white male ones.

To read the first installment from Human Relations in Business, click the heads.

Click our heads, whatever “click” means.


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