Event—Public Programming

Big Bosses: A Working Girl’s Memoir of Jazz Age America


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Sharp, resourceful, and with a style all her own, Althea McDowell Altemus embodied the spirit of the independent working woman of the Jazz Age. In her memoir, Big Bosses, she vividly recounts her life as a secretary for prominent (but thinly disguised) employers in Chicago, Miami, and New York during the late teens and 1920s. Alongside her we rub elbows with movie stars, artists, and high-profile businessmen, and experience lavish estate parties that routinely defied the laws of Prohibition.

Anchored by extensive annotation and an afterword from historian Robin F. Bachin, which contextualizes Altemus’s narrative, Big Bosses provides a one-of-a-kind peek inside the excitement, extravagances, and the challenges of being a working woman roaring through the ’20s.

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Robin F. Bachin is Charlton W. Tebeau Associate Professor of History and Assistant Provost for Civic and Community Engagement at the University of Miami. Her areas of research and teaching include American urban, environmental, and cultural history. Bachin has published numerous articles and delivered scholarly presentations on topics including universities and community engagement, urban planning and public space, community development, and urban design, and the intersections of urban and environmental history. Her first book, Building the South Side: Urban Space and Civic Culture in Chicago, 1890-1919, won the Award for Outstanding Contribution to Illinois History and Heritage. Bachin has also developed a number of projects that bridge the gap between the academy and the public, including several digital humanities initiatives, and founding the Office of Civic and Community Engagement at her university.

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