The Typewriter: Changes in Women’s Roles & Education

As a creative who’s studied object theory before, I really enjoyed my tangential dive into the history of the typewriter and it’s effect on women and women’s education. I had no idea that it had such a significant role in opening up new opportunities and spaces for women. It was fascinating to discover “its invention was, [a] key event, the catalyst which sparked this rapid social change” (Hoke, 1979).


As a artist, it seems natural to me to chose a meld of video, audio, photos and print resources. I primarily work with the visual, and this is only the third narrative video I’ve ever created to date (the longest by far), so I did struggle with it a bit. I found that there was a continual negotiation happening between myself, my writing and the different aspects (pros/cons) of each medium. I began with text, yet finished with visuals and orality, and quickly found my writing too complex for oral communication. My penchant for the visual meant that I had far more  resources than I needed, and had to scale things back a bit to make my goals possible. Given what I’ve learned throughout this course, this need for mediation makes much sense, and I found myself more conscious of the different decisions I made as a result of the different influences of each medium.


Since we were very pressed for time, I opted for the quick application of Windows Movie maker, Photoshop (to manipulate and adjust images) and my iPhone voice record to achieve a better sound than the microphone available on my laptop. I added many different voice clips, transitions, effects and dubbed in music where appropriate. I enjoyed the exploration the most, finding myself lost in the research rather than the medium, which was nice change of pace.


Full script and references located here.


Hoke, D. (1979). The woman and the typewriter: a case study in technological innovation and social change. Business and Economic History, 8, 76-88. Retrieved from

Image source: Pauline Mak. (2011). Typewriter at this awwwweome stationary shop at Brunswick. [Image file]. Retrieved from Flickr under CC by 2.0.

8 replies
  1. S
    S says:

    Hi Bobbi,
    That was a throughly engaging, entertaining and informative journey through the history of women and the typewriter. Thanks for the watch, I loved the visuals. Reminded me of my first typing years on a …cant remember the name but it was a rollaball, and that was a step forward for the typewriter!


    • Bobbi
      Bobbi says:

      Thanks S, I too kept remembering the old seafoam blue portable mechanical (non-electric) typewriter that I somehow acquired as a teen. It had white keys and at the time I found it’s clickity-clackity noises to somehow represent small little authoritative sounds of achievement. That memory for me was really reinforced after making the video. I wonder if any women of the period ever felt the same? I’m going to have to do a little ethnographic research perhaps.

  2. Steve
    Steve says:

    Hi Bobbi,
    Fascinating journey on how a machine can be so culturally significant. At first it feels like the typewriter marginalizes women, but your perspective on how it was a wedge to improve access to education and ultimately better parity with men in the western world was very interesting. Also very well done with your mix of graphics and subtle movement of images throughout to keep the viewer engaged.
    – Steve

    • Bobbi
      Bobbi says:

      Thanks Steve, one of the biggest themes that has become lodged in my mind early on in this course, was the idea of losses and gains when considering technology. Initially when I moved through the typewriter content I saw primarily losses but realized as I dug deeper that there were many gains. The more I ruminate on the topic the more I realize that the losses and gains are often governed by how
      well we learn to use a technology to its positive potential rather than the negative. This really began to change the way I saw the typewriter in relation to women’s changing roles in society. :)

  3. P.
    P. says:

    Bobbi, I thoroughly enjoyed your video. I found it to be engaging, thought-provoking and highly informative. I appreciated the fact that you shed light on crucial issues such as access. Typing really opened many doors and opportunities for women and allowed them access into new realms which were not socially accepted decades earlier. Also, the shift in gender roles meant that women were not only seen as domestic as they were allowed to earn a living outside of the home. I am also glad that you mentioned how not all women had the means to enroll in typing classes. This brings up another debate around access, focused around social-economic as well as racial status. I found your presentation to be visually and mentally stimulating and I am in awe of your abundant use of photos/videos and references. Well done!

    By the way, I don’t know if you watch ‘Downtown Abbey’ but your video really reminded me of season 1, where one of the servants was secretly learning how to type in order to better her future. It really showed how much of a ‘hot issue’ it was at the time. I think it’s worth checking out as it ties in nicely with your topic.

  4. Kate
    Kate says:

    Thank you Bobbi. I think we all learned a lot about a slice of the historical relationship between text and the various technologies in this project. How can we study this topic without examining the role of gender and the typewriter (and the telex). There is certainly a political aspect that cannot be ignored – that although women won entry to the workforce, the decision making positions were not reserved for them, but rather the technical typing pool jobs. But I would also be interested in the role between women using that same typewriter and being able to write creatively.

    In the Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind) museum in Atlanta, GA, there is a room that belonged to the Pulitzer Prize winning author with her typewriter sitting at the desk, sheets of the novel still in place. How fabulous that this woman chose not to use the technology by working in that typing pool!

    Here is the image:
    Kate L.

  5. JWG
    JWG says:

    Great work Bobbi, I wouldn’t have thought of the impact at that a typewriter would have on women. The impact on employment alone would have been a huge step forward. Great example of how technology can help to change and reduce societal barriers.
    Really enjoyed it.

    • Bobbi
      Bobbi says:

      Thanks Jason, I think it’s all how we decide to use a technology in society that determines the course and magnitude of it’s impact. It’s just too bad we don’t have more of an eye on the potential for impact. This course has been great for that aspect!

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