Karen Simms, Private Secretary By Bernard and Marjorie Palmer

“I wanted to get into business where it’s exciting- where things happen.”

In the past, I have been pleasantly surprised by the Palmers’ “Career Books” for the Moody Bible Institute, in that they present fairly progressive tales of young women pursuing their career dreams, even when their parents or society may not entirely approve. The evangelizing was done gently, with the Christian heroines serving as good role models without being judgemental of their secular peers.

The Plot: …This title kind of wants me to take back that endorsement.

This was the final “girls” title in the Palmers’ Career Books series, and maybe the looming 1960s made them feel more reactionary about the state of the world. Because in this one Our Heroine thinks the best way to win over souls is to tell everyone they’re going straight to Hell unless they repent.

As the story opens, Karen has just graduated from Business College, for which her parents scrimped and saved, but were warmly supportive toward their daughter’s ambition. While not the top student in her class, her instructors recognize a good work ethic, and the college superintendent has recommended her for an entry-level position with good prospects at Burnham Manufacturing.

His assistant, Miss Wintersteen, preps Karen for her interview:

“You’ve shown exceptional taste in your wardrobe and personal grooming. You have the personal attractiveness and conservative look that most personnel directors like.

You have a number of outfits that would be fine. A nice skirt and blouse would be very acceptable or that lovely gray suit you wore yesterday. Wear something that will help you look efficient.

I usually caution the girls against wearing too much makeup, artificial eyelashes, and plucked eyebrows. Your hair should be attractively done, but don’t go to the beauty parlor and come up with some off-beat creation.”

Karen is taken aback when she arrives for her interview the next morning and sees a fellow graduate, Marti Potter, is also interviewing. Marti is from a wealthy family and brimming with confidence, and Karen is tempted to pray to God to ask him to give her the job instead of Marti, but in the end they both get hired into the typing pool, with promises of a year-end efficiency bonus and the chance for promotions.

But she doesn’t fully understand what she’s getting into until Monday morning:

Several of the girls were crushing out cigarettes before starting to work, and  the two who were standing the nearest were telling an off-color story. Her cheeks tinged with crimson and she moved away.


What her dad had said was all too true. This was a mission field- a mission field where sophistication and materialism wore American dress and the language was English, but a mission field nonetheless. A mission field as pagan as any spot in South American jungles or the fleshpots of the Orient.

Over lunch Karen and Marti meet the other secretaries, and when proffered a cigarette, both demurely decline, and Sherril jokes that she bets that the stress of Burnham will ensure they start.

Karen disagrees:

“I know that I won’t be starting to smoke because I’m a Christian and have consecrated my life to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

This is literally the first words she speaks to these women.

Marti seems embarrassed on Karen’s behalf, but the two girls soon become close friends, although Karen turns down an invitation to see a play (“I don’t go to the theater for the same reason that I don’t smoke,”) and is constantly trying to think up ways to get Marti to come to church with her family. Or Sunday school. Or Youth Group:

Karen was strangely troubled about Marti. Several times she felt as though she should talk with her about her soul.

Karen finally convinces Marti to join her family for morning services and Sunday dinner. The sermon happens to be about how everyone is going to hell, and the minister stares down Marti the whole time, clearly he can TELL she is a theater-goer!

Karen is not very helpful:

“Wasn’t that a challenging sermon?”

After the service Marti makes a hasty excuse about having a date, so she can’t stay for dinner after all, and Karen is bitterly disappointed because she was hoping Marti would go with them to Night Church afterwards.

Clearly nothing sank in because Karen is shocked, SHOCKED on Monday when Marti is again offered a cigarette and this time she accepts it. Karen can’t contain herself and informs Marti that she is TERRIBLY DISAPPOINTED in her.

All of the typing pool is whipped up into a frenzy because Miss Jacobson, Mr. Burnham’s Private Secretary, is getting married and leaving the company, and when she takes time off for “showers, dress fitting and other activities” the girls in the typing pool will have the chance to audition for the position. Marti is first up, and he seems very satisfied with her performance in the role.

When it’s Karen’s turn, she learns that Mr. Burnham prefers dictating shorthand to the Dictaphone, but she keeps that to herself when Marti comments that he simply had her run the machine.

Karen had to admit she was very happy about the way things had worked out. It was almost as though God was going to answer her prayer and give her the job all the girls were wanting.

But then MORAL DILEMMA! After a stressful board meeting,  Mr. Burnham tells Karen to tell any callers that he’s out of the office so he can finish his work uninterrupted.

Mr. Burnham had asked her to lie for him. He had actually asked her to lie!

The rest of the afternoon is an unintentionally comic affair, as Karen fervently prays to God that the phone will not ring. She explains the situation to Marti, who doesn’t get the big deal (I mean, doesn’t Business College suggest phrases like “Mr. Burnham is not available”?) Marti covers the desk for Karen’s lunch hour, and lets her know that she received a call and told the caller Mr. Burnham was out, as he had requested.

Karen Simms opened her secretary book on her desk and twirled a letterhead into the typewriter. Tiny beads of perspiration appeared on her forehead. How close she had come! God must be answering her prayer!

I mean, it’s fine for Marti to lie, she’s obviously hell bound anyway.

Unfortunately, a call does eventually come in, and Karen decides that with her very soul at stake she must put the call through. At the end of the day a very annoyed Mr. Burnham emerges to complain that it was his golf buddy calling to yak. Karen tries to explain herself:

“But the Bible says that a lie is a lie. I’ve been praying about it all day- that God would keep you from getting any phone calls.”

That actually sounds straight-up crazy.

Marti seems to be the boss’s choice for the plum assignment, and Karen watches disapprovingly as she slides further into the wages of sin: attending a night club, admiring the performance of an off-color comedian, showing up late and complaining that Karen didn’t punch her in.  And worst of all, smoking with the other typists:

Something within Karen died. The first occasion she saw Marti smoke, her friend did it with obvious distaste. But this time it was different.

The plot, such as it is, is hastily resolved when Karen impresses an important engineer that Mr. Burnham is trying to lure into the company, when nobody else will give him the time of day. After calling all over Chicago to track him down, he appears at the office with his wife, to whom he wanted to introduce to the nice young lady he had a chat with. Mr. Burnham convinces him to join the company, but he has a caveat: he wants Karen as his private secretary!

Karen also convinces Marti to come to a sleep-over party at her parents’ house and over the course of the evening gets her to accept Jesus Christ as her Lord and savior. Which, oh-ho! means Mr. Burnham is getting more than he bargained for when he chooses Marti as his new secretary:

“With God’s help I ‘m going to be like Karen in those ways, Mr. Burnham,” she promised.

He eyed her blankly.

“You see,” she continued, “I’m a Christian now- since last night.”

In that moment Karen Simms knew that one day she or Marti would have a chance to talk with him about the Lord.

Oh, lucky him.

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7 Responses to Karen Simms, Private Secretary By Bernard and Marjorie Palmer

  1. emilybarnard says:

    I want to sic Peggy Oleson on her. NOW.

  2. Cass says:

    Oh man, do I want to smack Karen upside the head! 😀

  3. Cee says:

    Oh my GOD.

    Someone needs to write a sequel where one of her long-suffering workmates spikes her punch at the company Xmas party and she starts taking off her clothes.

  4. Susan says:

    Does this say who the illustrator is? It looks to be by the same person who illustrated the Donna Parker books.
    Also she looks like Laura Petrie (aka Mary Tyler Moore)!

    • mondomolly says:

      I just checked and there is no credited illustrator- I would guess that they had somebody in-house for the covers, it’s clearly the same illustrator for the whole series, although I have an alternate cover on my copy of “Barbara Nichols, Fifth Grade Teacher” with a photographic cover!

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