Gertrude Dorsey, accountant
CPA got her start in the 1930s by answering phones in exchange for free typewriter and desk
Gertrude Dorsey (Baltimore Sun / November 16, 2011)
Born Gertrude Hubert Kitchen in Atlanta, she was the granddaughter of the Cherokee County sheriff. Her father moved his family to Halethorpe when she was 6 months old. She was a 1935 graduate of Catonsville High School, where she earned varsity letters in field ball, basketball and volleyball and played on the state championship volleyball team.
In a memoir she dictated to her grandson, Ferdinand H. "Tripp" Onnen III of Washington, D.C., Mrs. Dorsey said her parents were financially unable to send her to college during the Depression of the 1930s. She had mastered typing and shorthand at her father's suggestion. She answered a want ad in The Sun: "Girl to answer phones in exchange for the use of a desk and typewriter. No salary."
She recalled in her memoir that when she answered the ad, it led her to the Bromo Seltzer Tower Building and an office shared by a button salesman and yard goods dealer. "They offered not only to give her the use of a desk and typewriter but also said they would pay her 10 cents a page to take dictation and shorthand," her grandson said. "Soon, word spread among the other businessmen who had let their secretaries go due to the economy that a young lady was typing letters for 10 cents a page."
Mrs. Dorsey said her father soon advised her to move to an office building closer to the courthouse. She placed her own ad offering to work for free for the use of a desk and typewriter. She was hired by two lawyers in the old Hearst Tower Building on East Baltimore Street. Mrs. Dorsey negotiated to have the words Public Stenographer placed below their names on the office door. They agreed and Mrs. Dorsey quickly began to acquire more clients in the building, she recalled.
"This arrangement continued until the two lawyers informed her that they were no longer able to afford to pay the office rent and were going to move in with some other lawyers," her grandson said.
She chose to remain in the office herself and rented half its space for $12.50 a month. She was given some extra desks, had a telephone installed and rented a typewriter in the summer of 1937 after having placed an ad in the yellow pages that read "Gertrude H. Kitchen, Public Stenographer."
She recalled that Mano Swartz, the furrier, asked what she would charge to type the envelopes for his August fur sale promotion mailer. Mrs. Dorsey quoted a price of $3 per thousand. She knew she could hire other girls to type for $2 per thousand. In June 1937, her sister, Catherine Louise Kitchen, graduated from Catonsville High School and joined her in the business.
They rented an apartment together on an upper floor of the Graham-Hughes House at Charles and Madison streets, overlooking Mount Vernon Place. They walked to work.
Mrs. Dorsey recalled receiving a call from former Maryland Attorney General Isaac Lobe Strauss, who had recently lost his secretary due to illness. She worked informally for him at a rate of $1 an hour and later joined his staff for $20 a week. She was 19 years old when she turned the typing business over to her younger sister.
In 1946, Mr. Strauss died and Mrs. Dorsey sought another employer.
She had earned a degree at the Johns Hopkins University's night school and excelled at accounting. She took a job at Stegman and Co., an accounting firm where she earned $35 a week. She recalled passing the CPA exam and becoming the 26th woman in the state to do so. In 1955, she opened her own accounting practice in the Munsey Building. One of her early clients was William Donald Schaefer, whose office was also in the building and who went on to become mayor and governor.
Mrs Dorsey continued her practice for 35 years and later ran her business from her home. She also invested in real estate.
In March 1948, Mrs. Dorsey's sister Catherine married Vachel Paul Dorsey, an Evening Sun reporter and commercial photographer. In April 1958, she died of leukemia.
"My grandmother saw it as her duty to care for her sister's daughter and on New Year's Day 1959, she married Mr. Dorsey and later adopted her sister's daughter, Corinne Louise," her grandson said.
She moved to the Blakehurst Retirement Community and founded a Supper Gatherings Committee. She organized six tables of bridge every Saturday.
"She was wonderful about involving new residents here in the life of the community," said a fellow Blakehurst resident, P. McEvoy "Mac" Cromwell. "She was also just a lot of fun to be around."
A Mass was offered Friday at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Towson, where she was a member.
In addition to her daughter, who lives in Lutherville, and grandson, survivors include a step-daughter, Margaret Dorsey Freeman Howerton of Richmond, Va.; and six other grandchildren. Her husband of 40 years died in 1999.