This Week in Business History- Episode 30
“But more than mere marketing slogans were the elements of the Gibbs School culture: “Stand above the crowd”; “Excellence in all you do” & “Hold to your purpose”. All were the standards set by Katharine Gibbs and her institution.”
“In 1978, Fred Gregory applied for and was chosen as a member of the first class of Space Shuttle astronauts – – and he served in launch support for the first two Shuttle missions. Gregory became the first African-American to pilot a space craft, the orbiter Challenger on mission STS-51B in 1985.”
-Scott Luton, Host, This Week in Business History
In this episode of This Week in Business History, host Scott W. Luton offers a double feature, as he shares the story behind Katharine Ryan Gibbs, who founded one of the most successful educational institutions in the U.S. during the early 20th Century. Scott also discusses a space pioneer in Fred Gregory, a member of the Astronaut Hall of Fame and member of a family that has more than made its mark in service to our country & global community.
Scott Luton (00:12):
Good morning, Scott Luton here with you on this edition of this week in business history. Welcome to today’s show on this program, which is part of the supply chain. Now family of programming. We’ll take a look back at the upcoming week, and then we share some of the most relevant events and milestones from years past, of course, mostly business focused with a little dab global supply chain. And occasionally we might just throw in a good story outside of our primary realm. So I invite you to join me on this. Look back in history to identify some of the most significant leaders, companies, innovations, and perhaps lessons learned in our collective business journey. Now let’s dive in to this week in business history.
Scott Luton (01:11):
Hello, and thanks for joining us. I’m your host Scott Luton. And today on this edition of this week in business history, we’re focused on the week of January 4th. Thanks so much for listening to the show today, we’re offering a double feature that’s right. We’re diving into the backstory of two business and industry leaders that made their marks in different ways. Each paving the way for others to follow in their successful footsteps. Stay tuned and thanks again for joining us here on this week in business history, PowerBar team here at splotchy. Now, Catherine Ryan Gibbs was born January 10th, 1863 in Galena, Illinois, the daughter of a prosperous meat, packer, and granddaughter of Irish Catholic immigrants. Catherine’s father was adamant about our education and sent her to new England for both a formal and a cultural education in 1882. She graduated from the Academy of the sacred heart in New York city, which is now known as Manhattanville college.
Scott Luton (02:16):
Catherine married William Gibbs in New York city in 1896 and the couple moved to Cranston. And then on the provenance, both in Rhode Island, the Gibbs loved to sail together, but unfortunately that would lead to tragedy in 1909. William Gibbs died in a boating accident at Edgewood yacht club. When a sailing mast would fall on his head, thus Catherine became a widow with two sons to raise a high school education and no income, but even worse. Her late husband died without a will, which would prevent Catherine Gibbs from accessing his estate. Catherine’s first documented employment was a at a business school in Providence in 1911. Evidently Catherine really enjoyed the work as she and her sister, Mary Ryan pooled their resources and borrowed a thousand bucks from friends to buy the Providence school for secretaries where she worked, Mary would teach and Catherine would manage the operation and it was promptly renamed Gibbs, private school for secretaries, and it accepted both men and women.
Scott Luton (03:27):
But consider this at that time, the early 20th century men were more often, secretaries women mostly worked as domestic or factory workers in an interesting factoid women who were hired for office work were themselves called typewriters. However, the role of the secretary had begun to change due to a few factors during the civil war, the us treasury had hired 1500 women as secretaries in the last of the 19th century. The technology that secretaries operated began to advance think of the telephone, the commercial typewriter, the key operated calculator, all of these devices were introduced and began mass adoption in the late 19th century and secretaries needed training to operate these devices. And in fact, by 1930, about 95% of secretaries would be women. These dynamics created a nice window of entrepreneurial opportunity, but when surveying the business landscape of that era, there were very few female entrepreneurs.
Scott Luton (04:35):
In fact, women were discouraged from leading business ventures. Catherine Gibbs would say in a 1924, that quote a woman’s career is blocked by lack of openings by prejudice, by the fact that businesses outside of a woman’s natural sphere. And finally that she seldom is granted adjust reward by way of salary recognition or responsibility in quote, Katherine Gibbs ignored all of that nonsense and forged her own path. As she worked to grow the Gibbs private school for secretaries, Catherine proved to be shrewd at marketing and she catered to an exclusive clientele. Catherine would innovate her offerings and develop a creative program in a new savvy revenue stream correspondence classes that required no space or Tom expense world war one would break out in 1914. Of course, that would lead to less men in schools and colleges across the country. So the enterprising Catherine Gibbs decided to focus on women’s education.
Scott Luton (05:43):
She opened a school in Boston in 1917, putting out a quote, a war Thom call for college women with business education and quote, Catherine would follow that up by opening a school in New York in 1918 Gibbs began advertising in alumni journals, believing college educated women who could not find jobs were her perfect clients, a message that centered on female empowerment was embraced in the school’s marketing tactics, but more than mere marketing slogans were the elements of the Gibbs school culture stand above the crowd excellence in all you do hold to your purpose. All of these and others were standards set by Katherine Gibbs and her institution. The students at Gibbs private school for secretaries were required to wear business suits, high heels and white gloves and carry briefcases a school. All of which set them apart from other women of the day, the strong culture of the institution was undeniable and it helped develop a strong reputation for its graduates.
Scott Luton (06:53):
These graduates would become known in the market as Gibbs girls, and they were well-known to be highly professional and polished punctual and organized uncompromising. When it came to business protocol, the school was incorporated in the 1920s. The alumni association began and the first alumni magazine was all published. Enrollment reached about 1000 students, Catherine and her family lived on park Avenue in New York and enjoyed a rather prosperous lifestyle. Then came the great depression in 1929 globally gross domestic product. AKA GDP collapsed by an estimated 15%. Consider that by contrast global GDP fell by less than 1% during the great recession that took place in 2008 and 2009, the great depression calls the Gibbs school to suffer a severe loss of enrollment, but the school would adapt by systematizing the requirements and qualifications for an executive secretary all while promoting its excellent reputation. These adjustments would help the school mitigate the impact of the great depression, but sadly, the economic turmoil would cost to Gibbs family dearly.
Scott Luton (08:14):
Catherine Gibbs, oldest son Howard would commit suicide in 1934 by jumping out of a building that loss as well as the stress of the times was certainly take a toll on Catherine Gibbs would pass away on May 9th, 1934, just about two months after the loss of her son. After her passing Catherine son, Gordon became president and along with his wife ran the school and soon enough Gibbs school graduates were in high demand back to filling a wait list and commanding higher salaries. Following his mother’s tradition of adaptability, Gordon established an unprecedented revenue stream, a winter campus Bermuda long before college study abroad was common because of the great need for office workers during world war two, the Chicago business community requested in 1943 that I Gibbs campus be established there. The school continued to grow with its first suburban campus in Montclair, New Jersey in 1952, followed by Huntington New York in 1972.
Scott Luton (09:19):
And campuses later were added in Norwalk in Farmington, Connecticut, Philadelphia Valley forge and Norristown, Pennsylvania Piscataway in Livingston, New Jersey by Ana, Virginia, and Rockville, Maryland. The Sterling reputation for its graduates and all of this geographic growth made Gibbs deleting secretarial school for many decades. Alumni included Pat Ryan, who later became managing editor of people, magazine, New Jersey superior court, judge Joyce E mung, Kasey, Doris Taran, first woman, president of the multimillion dollar United Jersey bank, North us ambassador, Joan M. Clark Mary West Higgins. The first woman elected speaker of the New Jersey assembly. Mary Slattery Stoltz, a Newbury honor author Karen Curry, senior vice president of corporate fragrance development at Estee Lauder and Karen Eddie Kent. The first female in the country, the head a trade association, the Gibbs family sold the school in 1968, but the school continued with its excellent reputation intact until 2011. By then women thankfully had all sorts of options for education training and careers.
Scott Luton (10:38):
In 1983, Catherine Gibbs was inducted into the Rhode Island heritage hall of fame. In 2014, Rose Daughtery wrote a popular book entitled Catherine Gibbs beyond white gloves. And that seemed to really capture who the lead character was and what Catherine Gibbs and our institution represented. I’ve also read countless remarks by Gibbs graduates that heat prays onto the institution for how it prepared them for successful careers. Catherine Gibbs said, quote, young women have to be trained beyond the technical to act as a personal representative to display initiative and to assume larger responsibilities in quote for a hundred years, the savvy entrepreneurship started by Catherine Gibbs offered women a viable vocational option that set them on the path to even greater successes marking a very important place in business history. All right, moving right along to our second topic of today’s podcast on this week in business history, Frederick drew Gregory was born January 7th, 1941 in Washington, DC, and grew up there in an integrated neighborhood.
Scott Luton (11:55):
His father Francis was an educator who served as assistant superintendent of the DC public school system and the first black president of the library board of trustees Gregory’s mother Nora was a lifelong educator and public library advocate. Many of Gregory’s family were accomplished public servants. In fact, his mother’s brother was the highly distinguished physician surgeon and researcher, Dr. Charles drew, whose efforts in the field of blood storage have been celebrated for saving perhaps millions of lives. As a child, Fred Gregory developed a keen interest in speed and would race small boats off Columbia beach in Maryland. He told Fox news in 2020, that quote, I guess I would have to go back to when I was a very young kid, probably when I was five or six. And one of the groups of friends that my parents had was a group of pilots. I remember sitting at their feet, listening to them, talk about flying in quote Gregory, graduated from Anacostia high school and then attended the United States air force Academy where he received his undergraduate degree in military engineering and his air force commission.
Scott Luton (13:10):
During his time at the air force Academy, he was the only African-American in his class. Fred Gregory earned his wings after helicopter school. He flew in Vietnam, transitioned to fighter aircraft, attended the Navy test pilot school and then conducted testing as an engineering test pilot for both the air force and NASA during his time in the air force, Gregory logged more than 7,000 hours in more than 50 types of aircraft as a helicopter fighter and test pilot, he flew over 500 combat rescue missions and Vietnam Gregory also received a master’s degree from George Washington university in information systems in 1978, Fred Gregory applied for and was chosen as a member of the first class of space shuttle astronauts. And he served in launch support for the first two shuttle missions. Gregory became the first African-American to pilot, a spacecraft, which was the orbiter challenger on mission STS 51 B in 1985, less than two years later, Fred Gregory was serving as a flight controller on January 28th, 1986, the fateful day of the challenger disaster, which cost the lives of all seven astronauts aboard on a side note, I was in fourth grade on that day in 1986 and like most anyone else we’ll never forget it, such a terrible day of loss for all those at NASA, the astronauts families, and our country.
Scott Luton (14:42):
However, I’d like to point out that out of all of that tragedy, I believe it influenced a generation’s renewed interest in space exploration. I know that it certainly sparked for me what has become a lifetime fascination, not only with NASA, but also space exploration in general. So now back to our story, as Fred Gregory would become the first African-American to command any space mission with the launch of STS 33 in 1989 on the orbiter discovery, which carried a classified payload in his career, Gregory logged more than a 450 hours in space. He wants told Ebony magazine that quote from our vantage in space, we couldn’t help, but redefine the world where we all are part of a whole global entity based on the absence of political and arbitrary boundaries on planet earth. In a quote, after he left the astronaut office, he assumed the roles of associate administrator for safety and mission assurance from 1992 to 2001.
Scott Luton (15:48):
And as the associate administrator for space flight from 2001 to 2002, before becoming the NASA deputy administrator from 2002 to 2005, he also briefly served as NASA acting administrator in 2005. Now Gregory serves on numerous prestigious boards, fraternities, societies, and associations. He has received countless distinguished honors, including being named to the astronaut hall of fame, being recognized with three distinguished flying cross metals, air force, meritorious service medal national society of black engineers, distinguished national scientists award in so many others. Gregory resigned from NASA in October, 2005, having flown everything from helicopters to jet fighters, to space shuttles in a monumental career of broken records and service to the country, Fred Gregory’s long and distinguished and highly successful career is certainly a model of inspiration and leadership to all in the business world. Well, that just about wraps up this edition of this week in business history.
Scott Luton (16:57):
Those were a couple of stories that stood out to us, but what do you think find us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, and share your comments there. We’re here to listen very special. Thanks also to Deb Kui who has been providing excellent research for the series on that note, thanks to you. Our listener, of course, for tuning into the show each week, be sure to check out a wide variety of industry thought email@example.com series such as tequila, sunrise tech talk, digital supply chain, podcast, digital transformers, and much, much more. Hey, friendly reminder. Of course you can find this week in business history, wherever you get your podcasts from and be sure to tell us what you think we’d love to earn your review on behalf of the entire team here at this week in business history and supply chain. Now, Hey, this is Scott Luton wishing all of our listeners, nothing but the best do good. Give forward, be the change that’s needed. And on that note, we’ll see you next time here on this week in business history. Thanks everybody.
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For more information on the Challenger disaster, Scott recommends “Challenger: The Final Flight” on NetFlix:
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